06 August 2003

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MEA – burden of proof on employer ‘unfair’

- harassment laws were long overdue – Malta Association of Women in Business

By Matthew Vella
Malta Employers Association Secretary-General Joe Farrugia has reiterated employers’ concerns on the burden of proof in sex discrimination cases as the sexual harassment saga between female MPs and the business community continues.
Speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times, Joe Farrugia said that the control of sexual harassment through the law was positive since it provided for both men and women, creating an equal platform for both sexes.
"However, where the onus of proof comes in, it is unfair that the employer has to actually disprove the case made by the complainant. Not only is this difficult to disprove, but certain allegations could be unfounded. Even if a case is decided in favour of the employer, their name is already darkened by the case. Only recently we had the case of Badawi, who was innocent of a crime he was accused of, although his name was made public."
GRTU Director-General Vince Farrugia has been at the forefront of the controversy claiming that the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ assumption is "wholly wrong and contrary to the normal Maltese legal assumption of being innocent until proven guilty".
Farrugia has courted slight outrage by saying that men and women could not avoid brushing together in spaces where offices are small. He wants regulations to be changed so that the onus of proof is on whoever is making the accusations or that small businesses employing not more than 10 persons are exempted from the regulations.
Mr Joe Farrugia said the MEA did not go all out in public on the issue because it did not believe in sensationalising the matter. Asked whether the business community was defending employers turning a blind eye away from actual harassment cases, Mr Farrugia said that many workplaces develop their own relationship-culture:
"You have both workplaces which are lax on the way people behave around each other, which means a higher propensity for sexual harassment to occur; and other workplaces which are intolerant of over-familiarity between workers. Employers are concerned their names could have a dark shadow cast upon them, and subsequently find it hard to disprove cases which may not be genuine. However, the MEA believes that the laws concerning sexual harassment are positive ones.
The Malta Financial and Business Times also spoke to Roseanne Galea, Director of Galea Insurance Brokers and President of the Association for Women in Business. She has expressed support for MPs Dolores Cristina and Helena Dalli who have hit against Vince Farrugia and Chamber of Commerce President Reginald Fava.
"Although the burden of proof places the onus on the employer, I still think these laws should have been long overdue. I think employers who don’t have cases of sexual harassment on their workplace have nothing to worry about. It is those who have recurrent cases that should be concerned.
"Vince Farrugia’s comments about ‘space’ determining how close employees will be brushing against each other really do not hold water. Sexual harassment is when both males and females have bad intentions. There have been too many cases already. It is high time these laws are enforced. As employer and President of AWB, I am on Dolores Cristina’s and Helena Dalli’s side."
Reacting to Reginald Fava’s comments on women dressing up provocatively at work, Galea said employers should take measures beforehand to stop harassment from taking place: "Employers should not tolerate indecent clothing. They should also thoroughly check their references and past histories to ensure they know who they are employing."

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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