I rise today to speak to Bill C-65, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence), the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1.
I am pleased to be the critic on this important Bill, although deeply dismayed that harassment and violence in the workplace has been, and remains, a prevalent issue in Canada.
This legislation seeks to prevent incidents of harassment and violence, including sexual violence, in federal workplaces from occurring, by requiring employers to prevent incidents and protect employees from those behaviours. It seeks to respond effectively to such incidents should they occur and to support victims, survivors and employers in the process.
Safe workplaces free of violence and harassment of any kind are crucial for the welfare of Canadian employees. As this Bill moves forward, I will be paying particular attention to the issue of support for victims, which in my view, is a critical aspect of this legislation.
Part 1 of this enactment amends the Canada Labour Code to strengthen the existing framework for the prevention of harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, in the workplace.
Part 2 amends Part III of the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act with respect to the application of Part II of the Canada Labour Code to parliamentary employers and employees, without limiting in any way the powers, privileges and immunities of the Senate and the House of Commons and their members.
Part 3 amends a transitional provision in the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1.
As the sponsor of the Bill, Senator Hartling did an excellent job outlining its provisions, hence I will limit my further comments to some of the impacts of workplace violence and harassment, including sexual harassment and issues of power imbalance.
The impact and consequences of workplace harassment and violence vary from person to person and are influenced by the duration and severity of the offensive behaviour. It is worth noting that harassment is frequently an ongoing pattern of behaviour.
When asked about harassment, violence or sexual violence in the workplace, respondents to an online survey reported that harassment was the most prevalent type of behaviour, with 60% having experienced it. Sexual harassment was experienced by 30%, violence by 21% and sexual violence by 3%. (Sadly, I suspect that the percentages are in fact higher)
As cited by the Office of Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at UVF, individuals often experience some, or all, of the following responses to workplace harassment or violence: disbelief, anger, self-blame, loss of self-confidence, powerlessness, isolation, withdrawal, illness, depression, loss of sleep, loss of appetite, increased anxiety or panic attacks, feeling demoralized, feeling humiliated, fear of going to work, an overwhelming sense of injustice and/or increased absenteeism and sick leave.
The impact on employers is also consequential and includes human, operational and financial ramifications. When employees experience harassment or violence in the workplace, the effect on employers may include, loss of talent and experience, performance errors, increased stress leaves and/or higher turnover.
Employees’ productivity will most certainly be reduced as a result of working in a climate in which individuals’ integrity and personal boundaries are not respected.
Furthermore, harassment often reaches beyond the workplace and can have a devastating effect on the victim’s families, relationships and friendships.
In terms of sexual harassment in the workplace, it has been described by Nannina Angioni, a labour and employment lawyer who has worked on hundreds of sexual harassment cases, as “a slithering snake that ripples its way through a work environment causing disastrous results.”
According to Abacus Data, sexual harassment of women is widespread in Canada, where just over 1 in 10 women reported that it is common in their workplace.
Women 30-44 years of age are the most likely to experience sexual harassment at work, 64% reported that it happens and 22% said that it is commonplace.
Dr. Colleen Cullen, a clinical psychologist has said that for victims “the shame or guilt that a person may feel when sexually harassed at work can devastate their self-esteem and sense of self-worth as a professional. And moreover, may have long-term mental health effects when experienced early in a person’s career.
The European Union Commission on the protection of the dignity of women and men at work has reported that “sexual harassment pollutes the working environment and can have a devastating effect upon the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it.
Sexual harassment can be a significant obstacle to the integration, equality and promotion of women in the labour market. Victims often suffer both short and long-term damage to their employment prospects if they are forced to change jobs.
When asked about particular risks that contribute to the occurrence of violence in the workplace 34% of people responded, and of that, 51% said that they had experienced violence when working alone or in small numbers and 28% had experienced violence when working late at night. I would note that both of these risks are frequently present for Parliamentary staff.
The issue of power imbalance often forms part of the workplace harassment equation. It is never acceptable for a person to use their position of power to abuse or harass another, sexually or otherwise.
Here on the Hill, where the issue of power imbalance is widespread, we must be especially vigilant. We must remember that Parliamentary staff work at the pleasure of their bosses and often work in offices of only three or four people, where making a complaint about inappropriate behaviour could have dire repercussions in an often young persons’ career. Accordingly, this legislation will provide much needed protection to Hill staffers and is a very good start. Let us be mindful, however, that there remains an onus on all of us to speak up and speak out against harassment and violence that happens here, in this place. In our place.
In order to meet its stated objectives, the Government must ensure that in concurrence with the coming into force of this Bill, regulatory amendments such as, but not limited to, identification of the essential elements of a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy; an updated resolution process conducted by qualified and impartial persons; and an obligation for the provision of support to employees who have experienced harassment or violence in the workplace are implemented.
Honourable Senators, the protection and well-being of federally regulated employees, including those who work on Parliament Hill, is of paramount importance and I fully support this Bill.
Such protection, however, cannot be achieved through legislation alone. In this regard, I call upon all Canadians to form part of the solution and commit to eliminating violence and harassment in the workplace once and for all.