President upholds penalty of PTV employees for creating hostile, offensive environment for female

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi on Sunday upheld the penalty of withholding the promotion for two years upon six PTV employees who were involved in creating a hostile and offensive work environment for a female cameraman (the complainant).

He also held that the complainant’s termination from service was being rendered as void ab initio as disciplinary proceedings were initiated against her without following the due process, in a slipshod and clumsy manner, and rude and degrading actions were taken against her, President Secretariat Press Wing said in a press release on Sunday.

The president gave this decision while rejecting the representations filed by PTV, Abdul Rashid, Ziaur Rehman, Maqbool Shah, Muhammad Munawar, and Kanwal Masood, in which the Federal Ombudsman for Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace (FOSPAH) had imposed the minor penalty of withholding of promotion for two years and fine of Rs100,000 upon Ziaur Rehman, Abdul Rashid, Maqbool Shah, Kanwal Masood, Saeed Ather, and Muhammad Munawar (the respondents) for issuing charge sheets, suspension orders, transfer orders and orders to ban the entry of the complainant into the premises of PTV in a slipshod manner.

He, however, set aside the penalty of fine imposed by FOSPAH, on 16.10.2017, upon the employees involved in the matter.

The complainant had filed a complaint before FOSPAH alleging that she had been assaulted by two employees at PTV premises and the respondents had supported them.

The charges of sexual harassment, however, could not be established against the accused, however, FOSPAH had decided to impose minor penalty upon the respondents for initiating acts which amounted to workplace harassment.

Earlier, the President of Pakistan on 05.01.2018 had reversed the decision of FOSPAH as the charges of sexual harassment were not proved in the case.

Later, the Supreme Court of Pakistan accepted civil review petitions filed by the complainant (female cameraman) and Attorney General for Pakistan, set aside the earlier judgments of the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court passed in the matter and remanded the representation to the President for decision afresh.

The Supreme Court in its judgment, dated 06.06.2023, had interpreted the word ‘harassment’ by elaborating that harassment had two components, first pertained to sexual favors and the second was about creating a hostile or offensive working environment.

It further held that the facts of the case did not fall within the ambit of harassment of the nature of the sexual favors rather the available record and the proceedings initiated against the complainant in a slipshod manner fell within the ambit of hostile or offensive working environment.

Subsequently, the president held personal hearings of the case in June and July 2023, and decided the matter afresh in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision.

In his decision, he noted that workplace harassment was a global phenomenon, prevalent both in developed as well as developing countries, and it cut across religion, culture, race, caste, class and geographical boundaries.

He said that with improved access to education and employment, millions of Pakistani women were entering in employment and many faced workplace harassment on daily basis.

He emphasized that it was crucial that in a country like Pakistan, we should strive to eliminate workplace harassment since it was an affront to the fundamental rights contained in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

He said that Article 25 forbade any discrimination on the basis of sex and guaranteed equal protection of law and equality in all matters.

The president said that Article 34 mandated the state to ensure full participation of women in all affairs of national life and under Article 37(c), women had been given a special status in the matters of employment and conditions of work.

The president underlined that the aim and objective of promulgation of the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010 was to create a safe working environment for women which was free of harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view towards fulfillment of their right to work with dignity.

“An environment which is free of harassment enables higher productivity and a better performance and quality of living. Harassment is one of the biggest hurdles faced by working women who want to work and contribute to get themselves and their families out of poverty”, he remarked.

The president maintained that the term “harassment” as defined in the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010 could not be examined in isolation but the other aspects of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment also needed to be examined. “Gender discrimination is a pervasive evil that potentially confronts women who enter in any job either in public or private sector. The element which poisons the workplace by creating hostile or offensive work environment even unrelated to sexual overtures is not tolerable”, he added.

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