ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, which implements laws and fosters public awareness about them, is itself yet to comply with a piece of legislation for protection against harassment of women at workplaces.
President Asif Ali Zardari had given assent to the anti-harassment law on March 9 last year. Under the act, all public and private organisations, including ministries, divisions and departments, are required to ensure its implementation.
But so far, the law hasn’t been implemented by many ministries, including interior, defence production, investment, ports and shipping, and textile industries.
Under the law, all employers are required to display a code of conduct within six months of the act’s commencement. The code should provide guidelines for ensuring a work environment that is free of harassment and gender intimidation.
Anyone found guilty of harassing a female subordinate or colleague may face penalties, ranging from censure and withholding of promotion for a specific period of time to dismissal from service and fine.
Employees are empowered to move the court if their organisation fails to comply with this provision. “Any employee of an organisation can file a petition before the district court. If an organisation is found guilty, it will be liable to pay a fine between Rs25,000 and Rs100,000,” says Islamabad-based legal expert Barrister Muhammad Afzal.
Afzal said that under the law, each organisation was also bound to constitute an inquiry committee within 30 days of the act’s enactment. “This committee is meant to probe into complaints of harassment and, under the law, at least one committee member is required to be a woman. One member should be a senior representative of the employees or a senior employee where there is no CBA,” he said, adding that if an organisation was unable to designate three members from within, it could co-opt members from outside.
An official, requesting anonymity, said that the overall progress on implementation of the law was satisfactory. The official said that most ministries had implemented the law, while others were in the process.
“Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is personally taking interest in the law’s implementation. The PM’s secretariat has issued instructions to ministries to comply,” the official said.
He said that Gilani had recently appointed the first woman ombudsperson.
However, provinces are yet to appoint an ombudsperson to receive and decide on complaints of sexual harassment. Under the law, the ombudsperson is authorised to hear appeals against decisions of inquiry committees.
According to the official, the district courts can hear the cases in the absence of the ombudsperson.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2011.
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