Women's group Aware thinks it is time to put the spotlight on workplace sexual harassment so that complaints will be investigated properly and culprits dealt with.

It has received 80 complaints - 30 this year alone - and feels Singapore falls short in terms of laws to protect victims and clear workplace practices on the issue.

It is calling for a written code that details how employers deal with complaints and measures to educate employees and create a harassment-free workplace.

It also recommends having an independent administrative body to probe complaints as victims often say employers dismiss complaints without investigating fully.

And it hopes the Government will consider introducing specific laws such as those increasingly common not just in the West but also in Asia.

Aware has been in contact with the Manpower Ministry, which told The Sunday Times it encouraged employers to introduce clear rules to guide workers to deal with encounters of harassment.

Aware is launching a campaign today to raise awareness of workplace sexual harassment and releasing a 70-page report that outlines shortcomings in current laws and workplace policies.

Currently, those who are sexually harassed can complain to their employers or their unions, file a complaint in the Subordinate Courts, lodge a civil suit and, if the harassment is physical, report it to the police.

Verbal harassment is not an arrestable offence.

But Aware executive director Corinna Lim said criminal cases are hard to prove beyond reasonable doubt, civil remedies can be expensive and victims are often left dissatisfied with the outcomes.

Interviews by The Sunday Times with eight women who complained of workplace harassment over the past two years found that in most cases, the women chose to leave their jobs. One woman claimed that she was retrenched soon after she complained.

Aware's Sexual Harassment Out (Shout) campaign intends to get victims to share their experiences and have companies pledge to act.

Among other things, the report and campaign highlight the fact that neither the Employment Act nor the Workplace Safety And Health Act contains any provisions for sexual harassment, and many companies do not have policies or procedures in place.

The report says the absence of such laws "gives rise to workplace cultures and practices that are tolerant of sexual harassment".

It also points out that Singapore is obliged under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) to enact laws that protect against workplace sexual harassment.

But laws do not always work unless discriminatory social attitudes are addressed, pointed out Minister of State for Social and Family Development Halimah Yacob, who is in charge of Singapore's Cedaw obligations.

Women need to know their rights and companies must also play their part, she said, adding that it is the responsibility of every company to ensure the safety of employees and to enshrine in policy and practice clear measures to address concerns such as sexual harassment.

"The HR department must be given the authority to investigate every complaint of sexual harassment and, to avoid conflict when complaints involve very senior members of the staff, it should report findings directly to the CEO or the board of directors," Madam Halimah told The Sunday Times.

Checks with more than 25 employers showed that many are reluctant to discuss openly how they deal with complaints of workplace sexual harassment.

Singapore National Employers Federation executive director Koh Juan Kiat said the reticence could be because employers face many "grievance issues" and might not see the need to single out workplace sexual harassment.

The federation, representing more than 2,000 employers, does not advocate legislation or mandatory codes and believes that prevention is better, said Mr Koh.

"Where necessary, the company can spell out the alternative routes that the company provides for the employee to effectively resolve different issues," he said.

"In addition, the company must also educate its employees and especially its supervisors and managers of the processes."

To find out more about workplace sexual harassment and to pledge support, go to http//shout.org.sg