27 January 2020 | By Michael Thaidigsmann
International workplace convention aims to protect employees against harassment and violence
The European Commission wants all EU member states to implement the 2019 International Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.
The Commission on Wednesday adopted a proposal for a Council Decision encouraging EU member states to ratify the convention adopted by the Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO) in June 2019. It is the first international instrument setting out world-wide standards to prevent work-related harassment and violence.
The convention recognises that violence and harassment at work can be a human rights violation or abuse, posing a threat to equal opportunities. The EU cannot ratify ILO convention because it is not a member of ILO, only states can ratify such agreement. However, where and when the ILO instrument touches on EU competences, a Council decision authorising ratification is required.
According to an EU-wide survey on violence against women conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, one in two women said they had experienced some sort of sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15. In one out of three reported cases, the perpetrator was someone related to the woman’s workplace, i.e. a colleague, boss or customer.
Women particularly vulnerable
Overall, around 10 million workers are subjected to physical violence from people belonging to their workplace every year. 25 million workers are subjected to intimidation and bullying. Sexual harassment affects 2 percent of all workers, but three as often women than men. The highest exposure rates can be found in the catering services and among women with a precarious employment status. Five percent of women with temporary agency contracts are subject to sexual harassment compared to 2 percent of women on fixed-term contracts.
Four percent of all workers are subjected to physical violence from people not belonging to their workplace. One out of 20 workers is subjected to bullying and harassment, with the highest exposure rates in services (over 8 percent in the health sector and in hotels/restaurants, more than 6 percent in education and in transport and communications). Young women are especially affected by this form of aggressive behaviour.
According to the ILO convention, signatory states are held to “ensure easy access to appropriate and effective remedies and safe, fair and effective reporting and dispute-resolution mechanisms and procedures in cases of violence and harassment in the world of work, such as: complaint and investigation, procedures, as well as, where appropriate, dispute resolution mechanisms at the workplace level, dispute resolution mechanisms external to the workplace or courts or tribunals.” In addition, whistle-blowers have to be protected and complainants and victims given legal, social, medical and administrative support.
Guidance must be given
National laws should also provide for sanctions in cases of violence and harassment at the workplace. Victims of gender-based violence and harassment must have “effective access to gender-responsive, safe and effective complaint and dispute resolution mechanisms, support, services and remedies.”
The convention also enshrines a right for workers “to remove themselves from a work situation which they have reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to life, health or safety due to violence and harassment, without suffering retaliation or other undue consequences.”
Labour inspectorates and other relevant authorities are empowered to deal with violence and harassment at the workplace, “including by issuing orders requiring measures with immediate executory force and orders to stop work in cases of an imminent danger to life, health or safety, subject to any right of appeal to a judicial or administrative authority which may be provided by law.”
Moreover, employers and workers and their organizations, as well as the relevant authorities, have to be provided with guidance, resources, training or other tools on violence and harassment in the world of work, including on gender-based violence and harassment.
Scope of convention
The standards provided by the convention include trainees, interns, apprentices, and volunteers, and they recognize that individuals who exercise the authority, responsibilities, or duties of an employer may also be subject to violence and harassment. Protected under the convention are “places where a worker is paid, takes a rest or meal break, or uses sanitary, washing or changing facilities.” Also included are work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities, work-related communications, employer-provided accommodations and when commuting to and from work.”
In addition to this convention, a Violence and Harassment Recommendation was also adopted, which, although not legally binding, provides guidelines and advice as to how the convention may be applied.