By Gibson Mhaka
Baker’s Inn Bulawayo branch has been rocked by widespread allegations of workplace harassment, after claims surfaced that employees, especially female merchandisers and students on attachment, have been subjected to sexual harassment by some of the company’s managers.
Investigations by B-Metro revealed that victims, mostly female merchandisers, were being pestered for sexual favours by the alleged perpetrators (names supplied) and when they refused, they risked being transferred from one supermarket to another for no apparent reason.
In separate interviews with some of the victims, they recounted some of the most appalling and shocking details of victimisation, intimidation, verbal bullying, forced hugs and kisses and all forms of sexual misconduct.
According to a source from the company, what the alleged harassers had been publicly named for was the tip of the iceberg.
“We are being subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, verbal bullying, victimisation, forced hugs and kisses, and all forms of sexual misconduct. Those who refuse the sexual advances are subjected to further harassment like being transferred from one supermarket to another. Some victims are keeping quiet or not coming forward because they fear losing their jobs.
“This is because they think the accused will be allowed to see the complaint, then know the identity of the person who made it, so that he can respond. It is the same with students who are scared of repercussions for their careers,” said a victim who did not wish to be identified.
Another victim also alleged that preferential treatment was given to female workers, whom they suspected might have had sexual encounters with the alleged perpetrators.
The latest case of sexual harassment which allegedly left one of the students on attachment extremely depressed and demoralised is being investigated by the police.
This was after a complaint was made to the human resources manager who didn’t take any action against the alleged perpetrator.
A police officer close to the investigation of the alleged sexual harassment at the company confirmed it to B-Metro.
“Yes, there is a case of sexual harassment involving a student on attachment from that company which is being handled by the police. The case is just a tip of the iceberg of what is happening at the company as more victims are yet to come forward and give their testimonies,” said the police officer.
Added the police officer: “When she was interviewed by the police, she was so traumatised and ashamed, not only by the sexual harassment but by having to give the details of the alleged harassment. Before investigations were instituted the victim was referred for counselling as she was extremely traumatised as a result of the alleged harassment.
“There is no doubt that this matter would add to a growing number of reports that women are regularly harassed or discriminated against at the company”.
Baker’s Inn chief executive officer Ngoni Mazango said the allegations would be investigated.
“As a business we do not tolerate such behaviour and conduct, as such, we will investigate. Those found on the wrong side of our Code of Conduct, will be dealt with in accordance with the law,” he said.
Meanwhile, a counsellor with a local organisation who requested anonymity for professional reasons said it was helpful to train students to be alert to the possibility of sexual misconduct, to identify warning signs and to learn strategies of getting out of those kinds of situations before it reaches a crisis. B Metro