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Eliminating harassment in the world of work

2022-09-27  Paheja Siririka

Eliminating harassment in the world of work

The labour ministry has said now that Namibia has ratified Convention 190, employers should regard this pact as an instrument that aims to promote harmonious labour relations at their workplaces, and it is time to boost the human dignity of both their employees and those they serve.

Namibia ratified this convention in December 2020, but it became effective only in December 2021 as per the International Labour Organisation (ILO) requirements, which stipulate that any ratified convention by a member state becomes effective after a year of ratification.

“This is the first international legal instrument that aims to eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work. The employers should, therefore, come up with workplace policies that are in support of this convention,” said Maria Hedimbi, the labour ministry’s spokesperson.

Adopted in 2019, the ILO Convention 190 protects workers and other persons in the world of work, including employees as well as persons working, irrespective of their contractual statuspersons in training, including interns and apprentices and many others. 

Due to the recent ratification of the convention, Hedimbi said the ministry has had no official cases brought before it up to now.  “This does not mean there are no cases of sexual harassment in the world of work. Some of these cases might have been lodged with the Namibian Police before this convention became part of our laws,” Hedimbi stated.

She added: “The ministry conducted a rapid assessment in terms of violence and harassment in the world of work before the ratification of this convention. This assessment proved that there are indeed various forms of violence and harassment in the world of work, including sexual harassment”. Hedimbi said the ministry, with its social partners, after the ratification of this convention, came up with loads of activities, aimed at educating the public about this convention. 

The ministry trained 15 master trainers late last year, who are now busy training change agents drawn from different workplaces. Recently trained change agent, Social Security Commission’s manager for talent and development Winfred Pokolo, told New Era the essence of the convention carries a lot of weight because of its impact on the more subtle issues employees face daily.

“The importance of the convention is seen and experienced daily. If the violence and harassment are not addressed, it will continue to manifest itself by when people vent at work and more sadly at home or in public,” stated Pokolo. He said: “As a country, we should not just adopt the convention as a matter of process but focus on the correct and stringent application of these principles, as Namibia can benefit more from a productive workforce if they are rescued from this evil”.

Doreen Zamuee from the University of Namibia said the prevalence of harassment in the world of work has necessitated an intervention to be developed on an international platform. 

“I, having experienced countless inappropriate remarks in the workplace, receive this initiative with a thousand hoorays. Difficult people are not considered for promotions. So, you are forced to brush it off or steer the conversation elsewhere. Nobody stands up for you,” she shared.

Zamuee said: “I recently received a foul comment from a colleague at a work function. He said ‘do Ovahereros engage in sexual conduct with uncircumcised men?’ Other employees were sitting there just listening and expecting a response. I am still scarred by this event.”

She noted the greatest perpetrators are in superior positions. 

“They are responsible for driving the implementation and influencing the manner and gravity with which anything new would be received. Can we truly believe that they would legitimise a convention that affects their muscle flexing?”

2022-09-27  Paheja Siririka

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