The Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) is not being left out of the local discussion on racial and other forms of discrimination, which has heightened over the past days with remarks made by some in the business community last week.
Social media has been ablaze with the African community speaking up about their experiences with racism and discrimination here in T&T.
In a telephone interview with the chairman of the EOC Lynette Seebaran-Suite, confirmed the EOC had dealt with benchmark cases involving allegations of racial discrimination victimisation and denial for an opportunity for upward movement in the workplace—matters that reached the EOC’s Tribunal arm.
Listing three, she said noted they were all cases against public sector bodies, in which all three complainants won their matters.
In 2014, Kerwin Simmons an employee of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), alleged he was discriminated against because of his race—African decent. His complaint of discrimination was grounded on the assertion that he was treated less favourably than another employee of the respondent Simon Bahaw who was of East-Indian descent.
In 2013 Geeta Sahatoo an employee of the Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprises alleged she was discriminated against, regarding access to opportunities for promotion and training in breach of Section 9 of the EOC Act chapter 22:03.
In 2012 Desmond Noel an employee in the office of The Auditor General of Trinidad and Tobago alleged he was discriminated against by being treated less favourably than persons of a different race by refusal and or deliberate omission to afford Noel access to the opportunity to act in the post of Audit Director during stipulated dates in 2010 and 2011.
Seebaran Suite noted EOC’s mission as set out in its Act is to promote equality of opportunity and to eliminate discrimination in T&T.
She said the EOC as mandated by its Act also had a core function —to receive and investigate complaints of discrimination in several areas— employment, the provision of goods and services, the provision of education, and the provision of housing/ accommodation.
She noted however, it was to be understood complaints made in any of these four areas could not be just any complaint, but a complaint of discrimination must be based on certain personal and inherent characteristics known as status.
“So you must allege that the discrimination is either based on sex, race, disability, ethnicity marital status, and geographic origin. So if you are discriminated in one of those four areas, then you can make a complaint to the EOC and the EOC will investigate and we will then try to conciliate the complaint and if we don’t come to a conciliation we can tell the person to come to the table to conciliate the other side. If they come to the table and there is no resolution then the person who is making the complaint has recourse to the EOC’s Tribunal,” Seebaran-Suite explained.
The EOC Tribunal is a court just like the High Court or the Industrial Court, and their remit is to hold a hearing into the matter and adjudicate on it. If they find for the complainant, they can order the payment of monetary compensation (known as damages), or they can order that the respondent engages in certain alternative actions such as promoting the person, etc.
Seebaran-Suite said the EOC also had a broader mission to promote equality and rid discrimination from a stance of advocacy and research and advising the Government on policy and law reform.
“Under my chairmanship since 2014, we have tried to be very active in that area of advocacy and that is in the area of law reform.”
She said since 2014 the EOC had been pressing the Government to amend the EOC’s legislation because the definition of sex in its current legislation excludes sexual orientation, making it non-existent for a person to complain they were being discriminated against as a result of their sexual orientation. She said it is a big problem and an issue the EOC continues to address regardless of the sitting Government administration.
Seebaran-Suite said to educate people on their rights and what is discrimination, the EOC consistently hosts seminars and outreach programmes which engage discussion on discrimination as it pertains to disability, gender equality, and other areas.
The EOC Act applies to both the public sector and private sector, affording an employee in the private sector to file a complaint with the Commission, however, Seebaran-Suite said it had not had any private sector race complaints go to the Tribunal, but has had complaints in other categories that were resolved during investigation and conciliation level.