The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS), Kolkata, recently launched a three-month online executive training programme in sexual harassment prevention and workplace diversity for HR professionals, compliance experts, external members of internal compliant committees and in-house legal counsels.
According to an International Labour Organisation study, over 90 per cent of Indian businesses are unable to comply with the new law of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013, which has been passed with an objective of creating better workplaces, said a recent press release from the University.
Explaining the context, Prof P Ishwara Bhat, Vice-Chancellor, WBNUJS, says, “Ninety-four per cent of Indian Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) are unregistered entities. Also, a large number of the Indian workforce is in the unorganised sector, where it is very difficult to implement such laws. Note that compliance to the Vishaka Guidelines is not enough under the law as there are many more significant requirements under the new statute, which has replaced the Vishaka Guidelines. Most employers and employees are not even aware of this.”
The Vishaka Guidelines were a set of procedural guidelines in India to deal with cases of sexual harassment, promulgated by the Supreme Court in 1997 and were superseded by the 2013 Act. In 1997, Vishaka and others vs State of Rajasthan case brought to the attention of the SC, “the absence of domestic law occupying the field, to formulate effective measures to check the evil of sexual harassment of working women at all work places.”
Asked what is at the root of Indian businesses and companies’ inability to implement the guidelines, he says, “A major reason is the lack of available experts who know how to implement the law. The usual compliance professionals like the Company Secretaries and Chartered Accountants, often have no idea about sexual harassment compliance. NGO workers were supposed to help the industry with this, in theory, but lack of formal training among the activists and lack of sensitivity towards the needs of the industry is proving to be a hurdle.”
He emphasises that while big MNCs are hiring the few available experts and even flying them across the country for compliance and sensitisation in different batches, the SME sector simply lacks the resources or alternative solutions. “In reality, for an estimated two million workplaces with more than 10 employees in India, at least 10,000 experts will be needed immediately to just get things started. There is a huge shortfall in the number of people who have expertise on harassment laws if there is to be any meaningful implementation. We thought training HR executives, Company Secretaryship professionals, corporate training consultants and other such professionals would be a good start,” he says optimistically.
He points out that merely having rules or guidelines is not compliance under this law. To add to the problem, there is no government data to know the extent of non compliance. “We can expect some information on this from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs as well as the district-level Authorities, as under the new law there are some annual reporting requirements. However, there is reason to believe that a very big number of employers are yet to adequately implement the new statute,” he continues.
The WBNUJS course was conceptualised with the help of industry partners and an industry-academia panel consisting of partners of top law firms, senior litigators, former women’s commission members and general counsels of top MNCs. “The whole process started with a detailed market study, which revealed the necessities and challenges faced by India Inc,” he says, adding that their technology and content partner iPleaders helped curate industry insights and content.
The course will be conducted online through Learning Management System (LMS), an online platform, which will facilitate students to pursue the course in the comfort of their home, office or any location. Course content such as text-based guides, checklists, videos with experts, templates and tests will be available within the LMS and can be accessed using a login id and password. Periodic webinars and sessions to clear doubts will also be organised to ensure interaction with experts. Students who miss webinars can also access recordings.
Asked if an in-person interaction with experts would be more beneficial, as opposed to an online one, he asserts, “We don’t want to restrict interaction to a single city. We hope that an entire generation of Indian office-goers will benefit from this course. We could not aim for this without a robust online and mobile-based learning system.”
The course fee is `25,000 and the eligibility would be a minimum of two years of work experience. The enrolment form and other details are available at www.sexualharassment.nujs.edu/enrolment.php.