TORONTO - Female auto workers will be able to turn to special women's advocates to discuss harassment on the job or abuse at home under a new project sponsored by unions and the Big 3.

The advocate will provide confidential help to the employees as one way of combating the 'pervasive' problem of violence against women, according to the Canadian Auto Workers. 'This program is part of breaking the silence,' union President Buzz Hargrove said in a statement.

'Action will be taken to help free women from the entrapment of abuse at home or at work.'

The advocates were drawn from among female employees of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors plants and given training on how to deal with women in crisis, union spokeswoman Jane Armstrong said.

The advocates, available in each plant, will direct women toward rape-crisis centers, women's shelters, police or whatever other help they need, she said.

'The longer you delay getting the help you need, the greater the problem becomes,' Armstrong said.

Auto plants, like other male-dominated workplaces, tend to have problems with sexual harassment, she said.

'Our work force is a very diverse group,' said Don McKenzie, a vice president of Ford of Canada. 'This program is one initiative that begins to recognize and address the many related issues that are present in our workplaces.'

Armstrong said the Big 3 paid for the training of the advocates and gave permission for them to take time off their regular duties when needed.

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