Vietnam gets tough on sex harassment at work with first-ever conduct code

By Thu Hang - Minh Hung, Thanh Nien News

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A cartoon shows a woman suffering sexual harassment for fears of losing job. The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs has issued a code of conduct on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Winking, touching, or commenting on a co-worker’s clothes can be all considered sexual harassment, according to Vietnam's first-ever code of conduct on the issue announced Monday.
The code aims to help workers in the country recognize sexual harassment and protect themselves, the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs said.
According Deputy Minister Pham Minh Huan, the 2012 Labor Code stipulates that sexual harassment at work is strictly banned.
“However, relevant regulations are too general without pointing out what specific acts can be considered sexual harassment. This has led to difficulties in the prevention and handling of violations.”
“We encourage companies to incorporate the code into their internal regulations. It would create a healthy and safe working environment and thus bring higher productivity,” he said.
In 2013, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the labor ministry released the first-ever report about sexual harassment at the workplace. The report found sexual harassment was common with most cases happening in the healthcare and education sectors.
According to the report, more than 78 percent of victims of sexual harassment are women and it mostly happens to women between 18-30 years old. However, the culture and fear of losing jobs prevent many of them from reporting the cases.
ILO Vietnam director Gyorgy Sziraczki said the launch of the code is “a step forward for Vietnam in the fight against gender-based violence in the workplace.” 
“Sexual harassment cannot only result in emotional and physical stress for the victims, affecting their job performance, but also reduce productivity and competitiveness of businesses,” he said.
Ha Dinh Bon, director of the Legal Department under the labor ministry, said relevant agencies will propose further measures to be taken against violations in 2017.
In 2013, the labor ministry proposed fines of VND50-75 million (US$2,290-3,436) for sexual harassment acts in a draft decree on handling labor violations. However, the proposal has not been approved due to lack of definition of the violations.
Currently, sexual harassment at work can face fines from VND100,000-200,000 under a decree on public order offenses, or criminal charges for serious violations of humiliating other person, sexual coercion and rape.
  • Sexual harassment: any behavior of a sexual nature that affects the dignity of women and men, which is considered as unwanted, unacceptable, inappropriate and offensive to the recipient, and that creates an intimidating, hostile, unstable or offensive work environment.
- Physical: any unwanted contact, ranging from intentionally touching, caressing, pinching, hugging or kissing to sexual assault or rape.
- Verbal:  socially and culturally inappropriate and unwelcome comments with sexual overtones such as sexually suggestive jokes or comments about a person’s dress or body, made in their presence or directed toward them. They also include persistent proposals and unwelcome requests or persistent personal invitations to go out.
- Non-verbal: unwelcome gestures, suggestive body language, indecent exposure, lascivious looks, repeated winks, and gestures with fingers. It also includes the unwelcome display of pornographic materials, sexually explicit pictures and objects, screen savers or posters as well as sexually explicit e-mails, notes or SMS messages.
  • Not sexual harassment: Occasional compliments that are socially and culturally acceptable and appropriate, any interaction of a sexual nature which is consensual welcome or reciprocated.

          ​Source: Code of Conduct on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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