PETALING JAYA: The recent government circular classifying actions by civil servants referring to colleagues as “sayang or dear”, as sexual harassment could be due to such incidents being on the rise, says the Congress of Union of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs).
Its secretary-general Abdul Rahman Mohd Nordin said there was no place for such behaviour or language, adding that the move may have been prompted by more frequent complaints.
“Regardless, only proper and polite words and behaviour should be used at the workplace.”
“We (Cuepacs) fully support this move,” he said when contacted.He added that such incidents also put victims in an uncomfortable position, possibly resulting in their work performance getting worse.
“The victims may be afraid of coming to work (as the perpetrators may be there) and don’t know who to inform as well. Their bosses may also be in the dark about this.
“To anyone who has been a victim, don’t be afraid of speaking up and making a report,” he said.
In a Public Service Commission (PSC) circular dated April 7, it stated that office trysts or referring to colleagues as “sayang” or “dear” had been classified as a form of sexual harassment.
Also on the list is “sexting”, which had been classified as visual sexual harassment.
Sexting is the act of sending lewd text messages on online communication platforms, including Whatsapp.
Physical sexual harassment was meanwhile classified as involving touching, holding, molesting, kissing, pinching and hugging.
The circular, which was issued by the commission’s promotion and disciplinary division, said those guilty of the offences could face disciplinary action under Regulation 4A of the Public Officers Regulations (Conduct and Discipline) 1993.
Among the listed punishments to be determined by the Disciplinary Board are demotions, revoking of emoluments, and termination.
Women’s groups said the inclusion of these actions in the circular was timely in view of the enforcement of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act.
They added that alternative methods, apart from giving written statements alone, should be made available for survivors to give their statements.
“It is fundamentally important for survivors to gather as many details about the incident as possible when lodging reports.
“However, we note that it can be difficult to recollect their memories and document the event.
“Some survivors may be embarrassed to provide these details via written statement, so it will be good to provide other alternatives,” said All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) senior programme manager Lilian Kok.
“Confidentiality is equally important to ensure the survivors can retain their confidence,” she said.
She added that the circular also displayed the PSC’s commitment to executing its duty of care.
“This is a step forward in the upkeep of the civil servant’s code of conduct,” she said.
Public awareness about what sexual harassment really is should go beyond the acts themselves and include the effects and feelings borne by the survivor, Kok added.
The Association of Women Lawyers (AWL) said it was incumbent upon the PSC to highlight key aspects of sexual harassment, including through the use of specific examples to illustrate the point.
Responding through committee members Meera Samanther, Santhi Latha and president Daniella Zulkifili, AWL also congratulated the PSC for taking a proactive step.
“The fact that the PSC is also willing to consider revoking emoluments and terminating employees as penalties when sexual harassment has been proven, is promising.
“There are relevant legal provisions that make sexual harassment a criminal offence, meaning that there are already criminal penalties imposed, and where such incidents occur, the survivor should consider making a police report as well,” AWL said.
It added that survivors of sexual harassment are well advised to provide detailed information on the incident, with more details being better as it amounts to evidence gathering.
“Generally, among the information that should be included are the date, time, specific location, exact nature of the incident, and possibly whether there were any witnesses present.
“Highlighting the impact on the survivor, including their reaction, how they handled the matter, and their thoughts and emotions at the time and after the incident play a critical part in supporting the allegation and would allow the alleged perpetrator to respond in detail to this,” she said.