Working for access to quality public healthcare in South Africa since 1998
21 Jul 2019

TAC statement: Response on sexual harassment in the organisation

TAC statement: Response on sexual harassment in the organisation

 

21 July 2019 – TAC takes sexual harassment and allegations of sexual harassment extremely seriously. The organisation has a long tradition of campaigning and speaking out against gender-based violence and sexual violence in particular, both internally and externally. We are an organization that prides itself on being built by fearless women leaders who have centred their lives around fighting for rights in all its forms and have spoken out loudly and clearly on the scourge of gender-based violence. We have always sought to pursue a victim-centred approach. We will continue doing so going forward.

 

TAC does not tolerate any form of gender-based violence. We have a policy on sexual harassment to try protect against such harms. We endeavor to implement our policy diligently and to review and continuously improve it where and when necessary. 

 

In terms of the allegations in the Health-e article (also published in Daily Maverick) against a national office member of staff, we are committed to engaging transparently, but within the boundaries of the legal processes involved, some of which are not yet completed.

 

In the meantime though we would like to clarify certain issues raised in the Health-e article which can be read here. TAC has tried to strictly adhere to its Human Resources policies in this case and there can be no question of TAC protecting the national staff member accused, as alleged in the article. However, we do acknowledge that there are things we could have handled better, although our intention was to ensure that the process was fair and thorough. We do acknowledge that the time between the complaint being lodged and the process unfolding took too long. Things should have moved with much more urgency.

Below are steps taken by the organisation in this matter:

 

  • When this matter was first brought to our attention on the 10th of September 2018, the organisation immediately suspended the then accused on his return from a trip out of the country.
  • We consulted a Board member who is a senior attorney from Webber Wentzel in order to receive advice on how to respond appropriately and lawfully.
  • Thereafter we engaged independent consultants from Central Intelligence and Investigations to investigate, as per our policy.
  • The firm, which operated completely independent from the TAC, in consultation with the parties’ identified witnesses, conducted interviews, and obtained relevant documentation.
  • The complainant was also offered counselling at various stages through the organisation’s HR department. She sent TAC her medical bill, which the organisation commits to paying.
  • Based on the report of the independent investigation which was given to members of the TAC leadership, TAC instituted disciplinary proceedings against the national staff member in question.
  • An independent Chair from Webber, Cooper and Lockman was appointed. An initiator from Labourworx, Mr Jan Mosert, was also appointed and was responsible for bringing the case in front of the Chair.
  • The hearing was held on 25 April 2019 and a continuance was held on 13 May 2019. After hearing evidence, the independent chair made findings. The then accused was found guilty.
  • After this both the employer, TAC, and the guilty employee were invited to make arguments in aggravation and mitigation related to the guilty verdict. TAC, as the employer, argued that a dismissal was justified for a number of reasons.
  • On 17 June 2019 the Chair sanctioned that actions should be taken against the guilty party based on his analysis of relevant law and the TAC Sexual Harassment Policy. These rulings/recommendations have been fully complied with.

 

While there are various opinions on the sanction, the TAC believed it was obliged to adhere to the strictures provided in our policy, whose implementation depends on independent, appropriately qualified consultants. The TAC believed that it would be inappropriate for our leadership to interfere with this process, which we stress is not over.

 

We can confirm that the guilty party was ordered by the independent enquiry to write an apology to the victim and that he receive a final warning, placing him on probation for nine months.

 

We understand that the complainant does not accept the outcome obtained thus far. As TAC we have indicated to her that additional steps are available to her and we remain committed to supporting her as far as possible. Should we not have the expertise to assist directly, we endeavor to direct her to those suitably qualified to do so.

 

While we appreciate the role of the media in shaping and reflecting national discourse, TAC will not engage in any further discussion of this matter in the media or elsewhere at the moment because we do not consider that to be in line with the principles of confidentiality in our sexual harassment policy. As mentioned, there are other processes that are still unfolding, with the guilty staff member for instance having lodged a case of unfair labour practice through the CCMA.

 

This week the HIV Community are gathering at the International AIDS Society meeting in Mexico City. We were made aware of the imminent publication of the article while the majority of our leadership were in transit, travelling to Mexico (a 30 hour trip), thus making commenting adequately on the article impossible. The General Secretary, Anele Yawa, who was due to travel on Friday immediately cancelled his engagements in Mexico and did not travel. Our National Chairperson Sibongile Tshabalala arrived in Mexico and is returning to South Africa to deal with the issue. TAC would like to reiterate that we view the allegations published in the article as serious, but we also regret that it contains a number of inaccuracies. These will be communicated once all processes have been completed and we are sure the identities of the involved parties will not be compromised.

 

Our National Office Bearers (NOBs) and our board will each meet urgently early this week on the matter.

 

We as the TAC re-commit ourselves to the principles of the #MeToo movement to root out all forms of sexual predation. No one should go through that and we are deeply sorry it occurred in our progressive space. We believe that complainants should be believed and all possible measures taken to support them, particularly in a society such as ours, with unacceptably high levels of gender-based crimes and low instances of reportage and convictions.

 

We encourage staff and members of TAC to get in touch with our HR department and report cases of sexual harassment in order for us to co-create better and safer spaces for womxn. We do not deem ourselves perfect as an organization and recommit to continued learning and organizational growth. We also encourage comrades to report cases to the South African Police Services (SAPS) and other relevant authorities.  

 

We will not be taking any questions until all processes have been fully exhausted. We welcome engagement at that juncture.