CASES of violence and harassment in the world of work in Namibia remain largely unreported, unresolved and unpunished, with a report released this week indicating that 72% of the female respondents agreed with the statement that sexual harassment at the workplace is a reality for most women in Namibia.
The remaining 11% of women disagreeing and 17% are neutral.
The study on violence and harassment in the workplace was commissioned by the International Labour Organisation through the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations, and Employment Creation and was undertaken within a three month period.
Maria Hedimbi, Chief Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation stated that the overall objective of the study was to contribute to the formulation of policies and programs aimed at preventing and eliminating violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work in Namibia.
During the period of the study, noted Hedimbi, a story hit the media that the CEO of the Pupkewitz Group, Dougie Truter, was being suspended while numerous cases of alleged misconduct relating to sexual harassment were being investigated.
“An article posted on the Informante website, alleged that the sexual harassment cases might have been known by the board of the company since last year but that the complaint s had been swept under the carpet,” she explained.
Hedimbi noted that the International Labour Organisation studied the article to gauge the attitudes of Namibians towards sexual harassment.
“The majority of the comments either treated the story as a joking matter, believed that the women were willing and the man was therefore innocent or blamed and shamed women. The jokes were mostly made by male commentators, while the females focused on the perceived guilty behaviour of the women that were involved,” Hedimbi said.
According to the International Labour Organisation, the term violence and harassment in the world of work refers to a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.
Hedimbi stated that with the exception of the representatives of the Namibia Employers Federation and the Namibia Labour Commission, the large majority of the key informants interviewed were of the opinion that harassment, and in particular sexual harassment, is very prevalent in the world of work in Namibia.
She added that respondents generally agreed that sexual harassment at the workplace resulted from a combination of power inequalities, culture, and a lack of repercussions.
Hedimbi further shared that 62 respondents or 21% indicated that they had left their job because they were victims of violence or harassment.
In similar questions, 16% of the female respondents and 12% of the male respondents indicated that they have been the victim of violence or harassment on their way to or from work, while 5% of the women, 3% of the men, and two out of the three transgender respondents claimed that they have been denied a job or promotion because they refused to sleep with their bosses.
She further stated that with cases mostly referred to the labour inspectors and the Labour Commission, it was surprising to find a few incidental stories, but no recent records of reported violence and/or harassment.
The Labour Inspectorate complaint report for the 1st quarter of 2019 for the Central Region showed 733 cases that were reported to the labour inspector.
Hedimbi stated that not only did the report not include a case of violence and/or harassment, but that the reporting template did not have a category for such incidences.
Out of the 733 cases reported in the beginning of the year to the labour inspector, 99% of cases filed were related to payment remuneration (53%), unfair dismissal (16%), annual, sick or maternity leave (12%), severance pay (9%), termination without notice (4%), certificate of service (3%), and deductions (2%).
“Complaints about payment of remuneration accounted for 43%, 46% and 60% in the domestic, retail and security sectors, respectively. Some of the key informants and respondents also noted a lack of confidence of employees in reporting and resolving cases of violence and/or harassment through the labour inspectors or the Labour Commissions, and commented on the lengthy processes,” Hedimbi said.
She further noted that that recognising that the study had certain limitations, both with regard to the duration of the study, the limited sample size and the sensitive nature of the topic, it generated sufficient indications that the prevalence of violence and harassment in the world of work is high and negatively affects a large part of Namibia’s workforce.
She added that it needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
She also highlighted that the bottlenecks in cases of sexual harassment not being reported at work resulted from the fact that the Namibian Labour Act is not explicit and comprehensive with regard to violence and harassment in the world of work.
Hedimbi noted that there are also unclear and inefficient reporting structures and procedures in companies and that there is an there seems a general attitude of shifting blame to the female victims in cases of sexual harassment, and victims may experience a misplaced sense of shame.
“Victims fear of losing their job if they report violence or harassment, especially in the current economic climate,” Hedimbi concluded.