New Delhi, Nov 4 (Calcutta Tube) The union cabinet Thursday approved a proposed bill to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace.
The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010, which was formulated after extensive consultations between the ministries of women and child development and law along with several other stakeholders, defines sexual harassment and provides for an effective complaint and redressal mechanism.
‘The bill will ensure a safe environment for women at the workplace, both in the public and private sectors, whether organised or unorganised. The measure will help in achieving gender empowerment and equality,’ an official statement said Thursday.
The bill defines sexual harassment as spelt out in the historic judgment of the Supreme Court in the ‘Vishaka v/s State of Rajasthan’ case in 1997.
Under the judgment, acts like passing a sexually coloured remark, physical contact and advance, showing pornography, a demand or request for sexual favours, or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct was defined as sexual harassment.
‘Additionally, it recognises the promise of or threat to a woman’s employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment as ‘sexual harassment’ at the workplace and expressly seeks to prohibit such acts,’ the release said.
Approved for introduction in parliament, officials from the women and child development ministry say the draft legislation is likely to be tabled in the winter session itself.
Under the proposed bill, every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). Since a large number of the establishments (41.2 million out of 41.83 million as per Economic Census, 2005) in our country have less than 10 workers for whom it may not be feasible to set up an ICC, the bill provides for setting up of Local Complaints Committee (LCC) to be constituted by the designated district officer at the district or sub-district levels.
According to officials, the twin mechanism would ensure that women in any workplace, irrespective of its size or nature, have access to a redressal mechanism. The LCCs will enquire into sexual harassment complaints and recommend action to the employer or district officer.
Employers who fail to comply with the provisions of the proposed bill will be punished with a fine which may extend to Rs.50,000.
Since there is a possibility that during the pendency of the enquiry the woman may be subject to threat and aggression, she has been given the option to seek interim relief in the form of transfer or leave from work.
The complaint committees are required to complete the enquiry within 90 days and a period of 60 days will be given to the employer/district officer for implementation of the recommendations of the committee.
‘The bill provides for safeguards in case of false or malicious complaints of sexual harassment. However, mere inability to substantiate the complaint or provide adequate proof would not make the complainant liable for punishment,’ the release said.
It also provides protection not only to women who are employed but also to any woman who enters the workplace as a client, customer, apprentice, or a daily wage worker.
Students, research scholars in colleges/university and patients in hospitals have also been covered. Further, the bill seeks to cover workplaces in the unorganised sectors.