Premier Dwight Ball says the government will support Liberal MHA Cathy Bennett’s private member’s bill to amend the Labour Standards Act, the Labour Relations Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to update how the laws deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.
More than that, Ball is promising further changes to bring the province’s laws up to snuff.
“This is not just about a single resolution, this is really about taking action and you will see legislative changes in this session of the House of Assembly to deal with this,” Ball said Wednesday.
“As early as this Friday … we should be ready to bring out some new policies to our human resources secretariat, which I would arguably say are some very progressive policies about harassment in the workplace.”
While that policy will be in place for the people in the employ of the provincial government, Ball says the government will review the existing legislation in order to develop a plan for the rest of population.
“Let’s keep in mind that this is just not about government employees. This is about people that go to work with every single industry,” he said.
“We want to make sure that we have the proper policies in place so that those individuals can go to work in a safe environment.”
Bennett released a statement regarding her pending motion a day after a provincial court judge dismissed a single charge against 28-year-old Justin Penton for causing a public disturbance when he yelled a phrase — commonly abbreviated to FHRITP — at NTV reporter Heather Gillis last April as she taped an interview outside the St. John’s dump.
The judge said the sexist slur — part of a crass phenomenon that has plagued journalists in the United States and Canada since it started as an online prank in 2014 — was vulgar and offensive, but not a crime under the circumstances.
“A workplace can also include public sidewalks where a female reporter may be doing her job,” Bennett’s said in a statement Wednesday.
“Sexual harassment perpetrated by bystanders, peers, subordinates and people in power can no longer be tolerated and our laws must be changed in order to ensure there are legal consequences to such actions.”
Bennett said there is for the first time a unified voice of intolerance toward sexual harassment of women, and laws — which she considers “dreadfully outdated to reflect current times” — must keep up with society.
Siobhan Coady, minister responsible for the Status of Women, says Bennett’s resolution is a reflection of the government’s efforts on the issue thus far.
“Everyone in this province must be dedicated to ensuring that we have a safe environment and I think what you’re seeing is Ms. Bennett coming forward and saying exactly what we’ve been saying, what the community has been saying and what we’re working towards.”
Ball points to Coady’s and three other ministers’ involvement on a committee with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour to bring improvements to the Residential Tenancy Act and the Family Violence Act.
He also highlighted Justice Minister Andrew Parsons’ violence against women committee, which he co-chairs with Linda Ross, president and CEO of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
— With files from the Canadian Press