The House

'Room for better legislation' to deal with sexual harassment, minister says

CBC Radio

November 04, 2017

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, speaks to reporters at a Liberal cabinet retreat in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

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On the heels of troubling findings on workplace harassment in Canada, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu says there's "room for better legislation" even if she expects resistance as the government takes steps to tackle the issue.  10:54

On the heels of troubling findings on workplace harassment and sexual violence in Canada, Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hajdu says there's "room for better legislation" even if she expects resistance as the government takes steps to tackle the issue.

A government consultation on workplace harassment shed light this week on the prevalence of bullying, sexual harassment and violence at work in Canada.

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In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, Hajdu said she isn't surprised by what the consultations revealed, but is disappointed. In her former role as Status of Women Minister, she often heard how frustrated people are about harassment in the workplace.

"This is a culture problem. Women are taught at a very early age how to fend this behaviour off," Hajdu said. "And the conversation isn't so much how we shouldn't be perpetrating these kinds of behaviours."

What's needed is awareness, training that certain behaviours are not okay and for broader conversations to take place by both women and men, she added.

Hajdu said there's "room for better legislation" to create processes in workplaces where people feel comfortable coming forward with complaints, and where those complaints are handled appropriately.

Part of her job will be to take a look at the Canada Labour Code, which she points out hasn't been thoroughly examined since the sixties, and find ways to make it better for workers and employers, she said.

What's happening in Hollywood and the U.K., as more and more sexual harassment allegations are coming to light, may help victims come forward in Canada. But Hajdu said she expects push back against the government's efforts.

"I suppose there will always be resistance and I would anticipate that," she said. "It will be my job to call that resistance out."

Getting employers and managers to abide by new workplace harassment policies could be a tough sell, but there's an economic argument to creating safer workplaces, she added.

Hajdu said companies that have high degrees of harassment, bullying and sexual harassment tend to also have high levels of absenteeism, poor mental health among workers and rapid turnover. Companies that take care of employees and foster healthy environments tend to keep their best talent.

"It's not just an issue of social justice," she said. "It's an issue of economic prosperity."

Click to show more
On the heels of troubling findings on workplace harassment in Canada, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu says there's "room for better legislation" even if she expects resistance as the government takes steps to tackle the issue.  10:54