Editor’s note: The Friday Times was given this information by a whistleblower, a worker at NESPAK, who requested anonymity. A copy of the complaint filed against the accused is available with TFT.
A case of workplace harassment was filed against a senior male employee of Pakistan’s leading engineering consultancy firm recently. Although the accused was declared guilty, he continues to exercise authority and supervise vulnerable female colleagues – while the victim faces a severe backlash for filing a complaint against her boss.
I came to know about a sexual predator soon after joining the country’s leading engineering consultancy organisation in Pakistan. Rumours were that many female employees resigned from the office because of his ill-mannered behaviour with his male and female colleagues. I dismissed them like many others.
But a recent incident convinced me otherwise, of rampant sexual misconduct and of laws and rules broken by powerful men in the engineering firm.
The National Engineering Services (Pvt.) Limited (Nespak), an engineering consultancy firm, was established in 1973. It operates in Pakistan and abroad. The company has a well-written code of conduct and a harassment committee which comprises two men and only one woman to maintain an inclusive and healthy workplace. For the safety of the employees, CCTV cameras are installed to cover almost every corner of the building.
In March 2022, a senior female employee, who has been working at Nespak since 2010, filed a written complaint against her head of the department. She complained that her boss would call her in his private office unnecessarily, make undue demands, and touch her inappropriately — and in exchange offer her a permanent position at Nespak.
She complained that her boss would call her in his private office unnecessarily, make undue demands, and touch her inappropriately — and in exchange offer her a permanent position at work.
As a contract employee and a mother of three children, she ignored these advances initially. Later, the woman submitted evidences, such as Whatsapp screenshots of his messages to her, medical certificates to prove that the situation was causing stress to her as proof to the harassment committee of Nespak. The Nespak management pressurised the victim to withdraw the complaint.
As per the Nespak’s harassment policy, the committee should have decided the case in a month. However, it was unable to give the verdict in the prescribed time period.
The woman thereafter filed a complaint with a federal ombudsperson on March 30, 2022. After receiving a notice from the ombudsperson, cross questioning of the victim and the accused, and recording statements by other employees, the accused was found guilty of sexual harassment. He was penalised under the Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act on May 18, 2022. He was demoted to a lower rank with a one-year ban on his interaction with women and a counselor was proposed to him for his mental mentoring.
Although workplace harassment laws set the right precedent, it failed to secure her career. On March 28, 2022, the victim was transferred from her department to another department and building, which is not related to her expertise. She is presently waiting to be transferred back to her original post. The victim and witnesses are facing a backlash from Nespak officials for apparently damaging the reputation of the “esteemed” organisation.
NESPAK representatives did not respond to TFT’s repeated requests for comment.
Despite the ruling, the alleged harasser continues to hold a powerful position in the organisation, and is leading a team that includes women as well. He is expected to also write the annual progress reports of his female colleagues who stood in solidarity with the victim.
On January 21, 2022, the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2022, was notified and officially enacted into law by the government of Pakistan. The new amendments removed the weak links in the earlier version of the law — Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010. They strengthened and widened the scope of the law. But to who’s benefit?