"By right, all employers need to see this (sexual harassment) as a trend, and must establish a special unit to handle such complaints.” said Deputy Women, Community and Family Development Minister Hannah Yeoh. Pic by NSTP/MIKAIL ONG

GEORGE TOWN: All employers, particularly in the private sector, have been told to establish a special unit within their organisations to handle complaints on sexual harassment.

Deputy Women, Community and Family Development Minister Hannah Yeoh said it should be part of the human resources component for every organisation, whether big or small.

"By right, all employers need to see this (sexual harassment) as a trend, and must establish a special unit to handle such complaints.

"For the public sector, we are currently in talks with the Public Service Department (PSD) to set up an integrity unit to handle such complaints.

"We see a need to improve the existing standard operating procedure (SOP) while awaiting the Sexual Harassment Bill to be presented to Parliament," she told newsmen after officiating a roundtable discussion titled "Myth and Reality of Sexual Harassment - What is next?" at the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics (RECSAM), here, today.

Present was state Women, Family, Gender Inclusiveness and Non-Islamic Religion Committee chairman Chong Eng.

Between 2015 and 2017, a total of 47 disciplinary actions were taken against those involved in sexual harassment cases in the public sector and 64 in the private sector.

Yeoh also cautioned employers to take all sexual harassment cases seriously, stressing that all complaints should be investigated and acted upon. She also warned against any "cover-ups".

She said policemen, when attending to such complaints, should also be sensitive.

"We have been told, not just grooming cases, but when victims go the the police station to report sexual harassment cases, the frontline personnel dismiss them as petty.

"Don't try to trivialise it, saying it is petty. We must take a different approach. It will be a good start if all employers take sexual harassment complaints seriously. Don'tdismiss without investigating whether private or public sector," she said.

She also noted that usually, in the toxic environment where sexual harassment is rampant, there were "cover-ups".

"We don't want an environment where when one victim lodges a complaint, the whole office goes on a manhunt in search of the victim, victimising the victim again, instead of the perpetrator. We have to put a stop to this," she said.

Yeoh cited the case in which a head of department at a government hospital was recently accused of sexual harassment, saying it was an important lesson to the ministry in understanding sexual harassment.

"It was a good experience for us because we know where the challenges are," she added.

On a separate matter, Yeoh was also asked on the setting up of childcare centres in work places, especially in the public sector.

She said a circular had been issued, as early as July, for all government agencies to have childcare centres from Jan 1 next year.

She said the police force, where many personnel and officers are men, should also have such centres.

"We want to shift parental responsibility that it is not only a woman's responsibility to look after their children, but a man's as well.

"We want to start regulating the public sector first and test it out next year," she said, adding that in the 2019 Budget, a RM10 million grant has been set aside for the said purpose.