Sex, verbal abuse rife in workplaces

20 September 2019 | Labour

Workplaces in Namibia are rife with sexual and verbal abuse by bosses or clients who are rarely held to account for fear of further harassment or being fired.

Namibian attitudes, including dismissing and joking about those who report sexual or other forms of violence and harassment, ensure that most of these abuses are not reported and allow such behaviours to continue.

Unequal power dynamics, limited repercussions, fear of being blamed and shamed or punished are some of the obstacles preventing reporting of workplace abuse.

Moreover, a lack of clear reporting structures and support, workplace policies and definitions of harassment and violence, plus fear of not being believed, or being fired, mean most cases of harassment and verbal or physical violence are unreported.

A new study found moreover that many workers have adopted a “general acceptance of power inequalities and believe that things cannot be changed or challenged.”

These findings are contained in a landmark study conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) with the support of the labour ministry that was launched this week.

Titled 'Violence and Harassment Against Women and Men in the World of Work in Namibia', the study found that sexual harassment, while underreported and not always clearly understood, is a “reality for most women in Namibia”.

The study said the high rate of sexual harassment is “disturbing” and that the “quite shocking” attitudes towards verbal abuse at the hands of bosses and clients are a major concern.

A majority of respondents felt bosses have the right to insult, shout and be rude towards them because they pay them, and that reporting such incidents is not an option for fear of further harassment and abuse.

Only 3% of employees disagreed that a pay cheque gives bosses a right to verbally abuse them.

The results further found that 163 out of 300 respondents from the targeted industries, “had been shouted at for no good reason” by a boss or client, and 85 said they were frequently insulted by their boss, supervisor or client.

More than 110 workers said they “hated going to work because of the way they were treated.”

Close to 100 of workers said they felt they were treated differently because of racism and tribalism at the workplace.

Moreover, 62 workers said they had quit their jobs because of violence and or harassment at the workplace.

More than 20 told the study team they had been physically assaulted by a boss, colleague or client, including being kicked and beaten.

While the researchers noted that the study took place over a relatively short period, and obstacles such as fear of talking about a sensitive topic were considered, they nevertheless believe the information provides a “strong enough basis” for the conclusions reached.

Human rights

The ILO stressed that workplace violence and harassment, whether sexual, verbal, physical or economic, is a human rights issue that affects worker productivity, quality of services, worker engagement and workplace relations.

Those most likely to be abused are women, junior employees and people with lower educational qualifications.

Moreover, certain professions, including farm work, domestic work and security work, are more vulnerable.

The respondents for the study were sourced from a pool of workers in the domestic, security and retail industries.

Researchers also included views from 18 institutions, including UN agencies, legal and human rights experts, the Namibian police and unions, who all agreed that workplace violence or harassment is largely unreported in Namibia.

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