Justice Azmat Saeed of the Supreme Court came down hard on the provincial governments for not doing enough to address cases of workplace harassment. A report submitted by the Sindh ombudsperson said action was taken in only eight out of 350 cases the office had disposed of.
On Monday, Justice Saeed headed a three-judge bench hearing a case that seeks to make the law against harassment stronger. The Sindh and Punjab ombudspersons submitted reports on action taken in harassment cases in their provinces.
However, Justice Saeed said the provinces are not cooperating. The case might not be important for the provincial governments, but it is important for us, he said.
The Balochistan government lawyer doesn’t even come to court, Justice Saeed noted with displeasure, adding that it seems like they believe harassment cannot happen in Balochistan. When the advocate general appeared, Justice Saeed told him that if his government does not want to implement the law, they should just do away with it.
Should we give you an award for not making laws, asked Justice Saeed. He also noted that there was little progress in Punjab. Everyone is on the same line, he said.
The additional attorney general said that the federal law is the basically the same for all provinces. The provincial level the law is different, he explained.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa advocate general informed the court that the federal law is being observed in KP. Whatever the law is, there should be strict action against harassment, said Justice Saeed.
No one will be spared, he warned, adding that the case would be seen under the Geneva Convention. On a major level, the only one implementing the law is KP, he noted. The case was adjourned till March 14.
The Sindh and Punjab ombudspersons submitted reports to the court, detailing the number of harassment complaints received and what action was taken against them. Sindh’s report covered complaints from May 2012 to March 2019 while Punjab’s report covered 2013 to date.
Cases of workplace harassment are mostly addressed first by an internal investigation and then by the ombudsperson. Each company usually conducts a departmental inquiry and then the complainant or person accused can appeal that decision with the ombudsperson’s office.
The report submitted by Sindh Ombudsperson Asad Ashraf Malik said that 388 cases were filed and 350 have been disposed of. Thirty-eight cases are still pending.
Of the 350 cases that have been disposed of, the report only mentioned action taken in eight cases.
The most incidents of harassment were reported in the health department, where 88 complaints were made. Seventy-three complaints were made in the education department and 110 in the private sector. Two complaints were made by employees of PIA, 24 by employees working at NGOs, one in HBL, three in media houses and 66 were under the ‘domestic’ category.
Three appeals have been filed – two in Karachi University and one in SZABIST.
The action taken by the ombudsperson included the reduction of an employee at the government mono technic college to a lower post, the dismissal of one Karachi University employee and removal of one HBL employee.
A fine was also imposed on one employee each from HBL, Karachi University, a therapist, SZABIST and a private school.
Punjab Ombudsperson Rukhsana Gillani filed a report saying that 107 cases of workplace harassment had been decided in the province since 2013.
A penalty was imposed on 49 people, 18 were exonerated and 31 complaints were withdrawn by complainants. Thirty-two cases are still under process and nine were ‘filed due to different reasons’.
Of the 20 appeals filed, 16 have been decided. Three resulted in the original decision to be modified, five resulted in it being set aside, two were filed and six saw the original order upheld. Four are still under process.
Five cases of complaints against employers’ failure to ensure implementation of the workplace harassment act were also decided.
The Supreme Court ordered on February 14 the federal and provincial governments to make the law against harassment stronger. The directive came after Justice Saeed expressed concern over reports about the weakness of the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act.
On May 11, 2016, former chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali had taken suo motu notice after former federal ombudsperson for protection against harassment of women at workplace Yasmin Abbasi issued arrest warrants for then senior puisne judge of the Lahore High Court Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah. She had also ordered the Punjab police chief to ensure the appearance of the judge at the office of ombudsperson on May 13, 2016.
But the apex court had initiated suo motu proceedings by suspending the arrest warrants issued by the ombudsperson.