Workplace harassment: Senators seek amendments in law

Law ministry says students do not come under the purview of the legislation.

Azam Khan June 29, 2014
Workplace harassment: Senators seek amendments in law


After a series of harassment cases at the country’s top ranking university, a parliamentary panel has again sought the law ministry’s input in amending the law related to workplace harassment.

The Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice has discussed this issue at length this week after an alleged case came on surface recently. Senator Farhatullah Babar had moved the bill suggesting amendment in the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010.

While giving the background of the bill, he cited an incident of sexual harassment at the Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) in 2013, where the controller examination and a professor of the university were restored because of legislative lacunae.

Senator Babar said the present legislation does not protect students at educational institutions. The university syndicate fired the examination controller and his appeal was later also turned down by the office of the ombudsman.

The employee of the university filed an appeal before the country’s president, who is also the chancellor of the university. The president sought the law ministry’s input on his appeal. The law ministry’s reply suggested that students do not come under the purview of the Harassment Act and the university can only penalise the employee under its disciplinary rules.

During the committee meeting, Additional Law Secretary Sardar Raza and senior adviser of the law ministry Hakim Khan said the overall scheme of the Harassment Act will be disturbed if the addition of educational institutions is made in the legislation, as suggested by Senator Babar. Raza first defended the existing laws but later he confessed the lacunas present in the harassment legislation.

“Through extensive and fresh legislation, this issue can be resolved,” the secretary claimed.

Senator Raza Rabbani of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, one of the leading members of parliament on legislative issues, said this is a crucial issue and that a very negative message will be conveyed if this amendment in the Act is rejected. It will be considered as if we are condoning such exploitation, he said.

Raja Zafarul Haq of the PML-N asked the law ministry’s officials to prepare a draft for amendment in the act without disturbing its overall scheme.

Jaffar Iqbal of the PML-N, however, said that through such an amendment, there would be more problems in the co-education system and that half the educational institutions could be vacated after it is passed.

The Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010, was enacted to create a safe working environment for women which is free of harassment, enabling them to work with dignity.

The statement of objections and justifications relating to the bill moved by Senator Babar stated that the experience of the past three years has shown that the definitions of ‘harassment’ and ‘workplace’ do not cover matters pertaining to a student in an academic institution, even though the act itself is applicable to educational institutions. The act only relates to the employees in an academic institution and not to matters relating to those pursuing studies there.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2014.


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