The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved the "Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010", that ensures a safe environment for women at work place, both in the public and private sectors, in the organised and unorganised sectors.The Bill, to be introduced in Parliament in the coming session beginning next week, will help in achieving gender empowerment and equality. Domestic help have, however, been kept out of the purview of the proposed law that also proposes a fine of Rs. 50,000 if found violating the provisions of the law.
The move will contribute to realisation of their right to gender equality, life and liberty, and equality in working conditions everywhere. The sense of security will improve women's participation in work, resulting in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth.
The Bill proposes a definition of sexual harassment, as laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan (1997). Additionally, it recognises the promise or threat to a woman's employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment as ‘sexual harassment' at workplace and seeks to prohibit such acts.
It provides protection not only to women who are employed but also to any woman who enters the workplace as a client, customer, apprentice, daily wageworker, or in ad hoc capacity. Students, research scholars in colleges/universities and patients in hospitals have also been covered.
The Bill provides for an effective complaints and redressal mechanism. Under the proposed Bill, every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee. Since a large number of the establishments (41.2 million out of 41.83 million as per Economic Census, 2005) in the country have less than 10 workers for whom it may not be feasible to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), it provides for setting up of Local Complaints Committee (LCC) to be constituted by the designated District Officer at the district or sub-district levels, as the need be. This 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 the complaints of sexual harassment and recommend action to the employer or District Officer. Since there is a possibility that during the pendency of the enquiry, the woman may be subjected to threat and aggression, she has been given the option to seek interim relief in the form of transfer either of her own or the respondent or seek leave from work.
The Complaint Committees are required to complete the enquiry within 90 days and a period of 60 days has been given to the employer/District Officer for implementation of the recommendations of the Committee. The Bill provides for safeguards in the case of false or malicious complaint of sexual harassment. However, mere inability to substantiate the complaint or provide adequate proof would not make the complainant liable for punishment.
Implementation of the Bill will be the responsibility of the Central government in case of its own undertakings/establishments and of the State governments in respect of every workplace established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by it as well as of private sector establishments falling within their territory.
Through this implementation mechanism, every employer has the primary duty to implement the provisions of law within his/her establishment while the State and Central governments have been made responsible for overseeing and ensuring overall implementation of the law. The governments will also be responsible for maintaining data on the implementation of the law. In this manner, the proposed Bill will create an elaborate system of reporting and checks and balances, which will result in effective implementation of the law.