Wed, Oct 08, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Changing company culture

As in many countries, Taiwan has a long way to go before it adequately addresses the widespread problem of gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. With an amendment to the Gender Equality Employment Law (性別工作平等法) under consideration, legislators have an opportunity to demonstrate their dedication to this issue.

The draft amendment passed the legislature’s Health, Environment and Labor Committee on Monday and will next proceed to a legislative vote.

Unlike legislation targeting the perpetrators of harassment, the amendment focuses on the responsibility of companies to confront sexual harassment among employees.

This is not a novel concept. The equal employment law already provides for a penalty of up to NT$100,000 for companies that do not take certain steps to address sexual harassment occurring within their walls. Likewise, the Sexual Harassment Prevention Law (性騷擾防治法) has made similar demands of companies since February 2006.

But this amendment would make NT$100,000 the bare minimum for such a violation and threaten employers with up to NT$500,000 in fines for failing to comply.

The value of this change is twofold. It would send a clear message to companies that ignoring sexual harassment allegations is risky business, with a high price tag for those who are caught. Taipei City officials said in June that three employers had been penalized under the harassment prevention law for turning a blind eye or otherwise mishandling complaints of sexual harassment.

The amendment would also recognize the fact that the cooperation or reluctance of an employer to hear complaints is a primary factor in the outcome of a case. Without key changes in company culture, the chances of effectively combating sexual harassment are slim. Companies must be induced not to simply look the other way.

Where employees do not have an opportunity to file a complaint that will be addressed with concern, discretion and respect, they are unlikely to see any options that would put a stop to harassment.

The Kaohsiung chapter of the women’s rights group the Awakening Foundation found in a survey of about 2,000 respondents that 65 percent of women indicated that they had been the victims of sexual harassment — a figure similar to some estimates in the US and elsewhere. Only 6 percent of the respondents felt legal recourse to be an option.

These percentages are staggering.

Where the situation goes unresolved, despondent employees may see leaving their job as the only remedy. In these cases, both the company and victim of harassment lose out.

Combating sexual harassment is a daunting task that will require action on many levels and the cooperation of employers is just one requisite ingredient. It must be made clear that addressing allegations of any ill-treatment based on gender at the workplace is a basic condition for ensuring workers’ rights. But in a country where improvements in labor rights seem to come at a snail’s pace, it may take some compelling to get all companies on board.

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