UHWI urges staff to report sexual harassment

August 27, 2019 in Regional

The University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) has issued a memorandum to staff addressing the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace which, it says, has become a viral issue in the country.

The memorandum follows a front-page story by the Jamaica Observer on August 12, which highlighted the plight of junior doctors who have accused their seniors of sexual harassment.

The complaints were made on condition of anonymity, as the doctors feared an end to their careers if they ever came public.

“Sexual harassment in the workplace is becoming a viral issue in society today. The truth is that, what may have been viewed as a cultural norm, is becoming of great concern, particularly among our women folks,” UHWI’s Director, Training and Manpower Development Samuel Collins said in an e-mail sent to staff.

“Should you be the victim of any such conduct please report same to your head of department, HR or anyone in authority whom you trust,” Collins stated.

At the same time, he cautioned staff, noting that “prevention is better than cure”.

Collins also encouraged the workers to offer respect to their colleagues, a move he believes would minimise the occurrence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

“It is therefore suggested that if we accord due respect to one another, the likelihood of sexual harassment taking place would be minuscule,” he said.

Collins, in the same breadth, encouraged staff to attend workshops on sexual harassment being conducted by the hospital’s training division. The focus is expected to be on medical officers.

“Please ensure that you attend when your time comes, in order to learn as much as possible about this interesting, subject,” said Collins.

In the August 12 story, the junior doctors told the Observer that they have either experienced or know a colleague who has been sexually harassed or assaulted. They also alleged victimisation at the hands of the senior doctors who, they said, are keen on maintaining a culture of abuse.

“It’s well known in the medical community here that many of the senior doctors, they take advantage of their junior doctors here. They might do [to others] as they did to me — there’s verbal abuse. This might be straying a bit, but even to the point of things like sexual harassment. This is very rampant in the medical community, but they like to be hush, hush about it,” a female junior doctor alleged.

“A lot of the junior doctors, they’re discouraged from coming forward with any complaints that they have, because they are made to believe that it will hinder you going forward with whatever career plans you had in mind. You will be hindered if you kick up too much fuss,” explained the doctor, who has been in the field for two years.

“Every day I come to work I face unwanted advances. There is no boundary. I’ve actually been physically assaulted by senior doctors, but I have never reported it to a higher body — whether the medical council or my HR (Human Resource) Department. I’ve never gone forward because, honestly, I believe that if I do go forward my career will end. I honestly believe that my career will be hindered. They will do everything in their power to ensure that you don’t achieve what you should,” she added.

She said several consultants use their powers to stymie efforts by their subordinates to bring awareness to the matter, which could have exposed hospitals and the lack of policies in place to protect junior doctors.

Her male colleague also alleged systemic abuse, arguing that consultants offer constant verbal abuse and little respect.

He explained that a “spat” with a consultant could jeopardise years of hard work, not to mention having future cases of any complaints ignored.

“There are a lot of people — I can tell from personal experience in knowing them — who did very well or have done very well and they don’t pass because they previously had a spat with the consultant. There is definitely victimisation, especially with people who report things like sexual harassment. They get punished towards the end. I can tell you that sexual harassment supersedes every other issue we have,” he said.