Unions seek sex harassment law change

Patricia King 3The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is seeking legal changes to make it easier for victims to report sexually abusive behaviour in the workplace. The move comes after weeks of intense focus on workplace sexual harassment in Ireland and across the globe.

Congress general secretary Patricia King has written to employment affairs minister Regina Doherty, saying that reports of workplace sexual misconduct should be treated as ‘protected disclosures,’ which could be made to external bodies like the Workplace Relations Commission or Health and Safety  Authority.

Under existing legislation, sexual harassment is categorised as a ‘grievance,’ which means workers must direct their complaints to employers. However, as Ms King points out in her letter: “very often the perpetrator can be the most senior-ranked person in the employment.”

Ms King said sexual harassment in the workplace pollutes the working environment. “It can have a devastating effect on the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it,” she said.

Separately, IMPACT and other unions have criticised a minister of state, whose discriminatory comments resulted in a €7,500 compensation award. During an interview for the post of private secretary to Minister John Halligan, the Waterford TD asked the candidate: “Are you a married woman? Do you have children? How old are your children?

A Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer declared the comments discriminatory under equality legislation, after the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU) took up the case.

Minister Halligan bizarrely claimed he had simply been championing “family friendly” work arrangements. In a statement, he also cited his inexperience at interviewing. “This was the first time I was conducting an interview of this sort and I did not realise that it was unacceptable to ask such a question,” he said. However, the candidate told the WRC that he had prefaced his question by saying: “I know I shouldn’t say this.”