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The right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment
by ILO, ITUC, HRW, CARE, agencies
9:10pm 11th Jun, 2019
June 2019
A new Convention and accompanying Recommendation to combat violence and harassment in the world of work have been adopted by the International Labour Conference (ILC).
The Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, and Violence and Harassment Recommendation, 2019, were adopted by delegates on the final day of the Centenary International Labour Conference, in Geneva. For the Convention, 439 votes were cast in favour, seven against, with 30 abstentions. The Recommendation was passed with 397 votes in favour, 12 votes against and 44 abstentions.
The Convention recognizes that violence and harassment in the world of work can constitute a human rights violation or abuse is a threat to equal opportunities, is unacceptable and incompatible with decent work.
It defines violence and harassment as behaviours, practices or threats that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm. It reminds member States that they have a responsibility to promote a general environment of zero tolerance.
The new international labour standard aims to protect workers and employees, irrespective of their contractual status, and includes persons in training, interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, job seekers and job applicants. It recognizes that individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer can also be subjected to violence and harassment.
The standard covers violence and harassment occurring in the workplace; places where a worker is paid, takes a rest or meal break, or uses sanitary, washing or changing facilities; during work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities; work-related communications (including through information and communication technologies), in employer-provided accommodation; and when commuting to and from work. It also recognizes that violence and harassment may involve third parties.
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder welcomed the adoption. The new standards recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, he said.
The next step is to put these protections into practice, so that we create a better, safer, decent, working environment for women and men.
Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO's Workquality Department, said: 'Without respect, there is no dignity at work, and, without dignity, there is no social justice. This is the first time that a Convention and Recommendation on violence and harassment in the world of work have been adopted. We now have an agreed definition of violence and harassment. We know what needs to be done to prevent and address it, and by whom'.
This is the first new Convention agreed by the International Labour Conference since 2011, when the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) was adopted. Conventions are legally binding international instruments, while Recommendations provide advice and guidance.
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said: 'More than 800 million women have experienced some form of violence and harassment, ranging from physical assault to verbal abuse, bullying and intimidation. #MeToo and similar movements have helped expose the scale of the problem in the world of work, encouraging women to speak out and demand justice.
Whilst women are overwhelmingly and disproportionately affected, men are not immune. And discrimination against certain groups exacerbates violence and harassment. No sector, whether formal or informal, public, private or voluntary is untouched.
Violence and harassment at work can come from managers, supervisors, co-workers, customers and clients. It can happen at the physical workplace, at work-related social events or training, whilst getting to and from work, or anywhere the worker is required to be because of her or his work. Abusive workplace practices can also contribute to the toll of violence and harassment, with work-related stress and mental illness at an all-time high.
The new Convention places clear responsibilities on employers and governments for tackling the scourge of violence and harassment in the world of work. Workers, too, will have responsibilities to refrain from acts of violence and harassment and to comply with any policies, procedures or other steps taken by their employers to prevent it.
Violence and harassment in the world of work is a global problem, requiring global solutions. Trade unions were campaigning for this new law long before the painful revelations of #MeToo. Our governments and employers must now play their part. No one should go to work in fear of experiencing violence and harassment.'
'Governments, workers, and employers have made history by adopting a treaty that sets standards for ending the scourge of violence and harassment in the world of work', said Rothna Begum, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. The women who bravely spoke up about their #MeToo abuses at work have made themselves heard at this negotiation, and their voices are reflected in these important new protections'.
Governments that ratify the treaty will be required to develop national laws prohibiting workplace violence and to take preventive measures, such as information campaigns and requiring companies to have workplace policies on violence. The treaty also obligates governments to monitor the issue and provide access to remedies through complaint mechanisms, witness protection measures, and victim services, and to provide measures to protect victims and whistleblowers from retaliation.
The treaty covers workers, trainees, workers whose employment has been terminated, job seekers, and others, and applies to both formal and informal sectors. It also accounts for violence and harassment involving third parties, such as clients, customers, or service providers.
Previously there was no international standard specifically addressing violence and harassment in the world of work. The World Bank's Women, Business and the Law 2018 report found that 59 out of the 189 countries studied had no specific legal provisions covering sexual harassment in employment.
The ILO has found many gaps in legal protections relating to violence and harassment in the workplace. These include a lack of coherent laws, a lack of coverage in laws and policies for workers most exposed to violence, and an overly narrow definition of workplace in existing laws and regulations.
The new ILO convention and recommendation affirm the right to freedom from violence and harassment in the workplace. They provide for an integrated, inclusive, and gender-responsive approach for the prevention and elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work.
The convention defines violence and harassment as a range of unacceptable behaviors and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.
The treaty recognizes that violence and harassment go beyond just the physical workplace. Many workers face violence not only in the four walls of an office or factory, but on their commutes to work, at social events, or while dealing with customers or other third parties, Begum said.
The convention requires governments to take measures to prevent and protect people from violence and harassment, and to provide enforcement mechanisms and remedies for victims, including compensation. These include adopting legal prohibitions of violence and harassment at work, and ensuring effective inspections, investigations, and protection from retaliation.
Governments should require employers to have workplace policies addressing violence and harassment, appropriate risk assessments, prevention measures, and training. Employers should address violence and harassment in their occupational safety and health management.
The convention also recognizes that vulnerable groups may be disproportionately affected by violence and harassment at work, and calls for states to ensure the right to equality and non-discrimination in employment and occupation.
States will also be required to identify high-risk sectors or occupations and take measures to effectively protect those workers.
The convention also sets out standards for how governments should mitigate the effects of domestic violence in the world of work, including by having flexible working arrangements and leave for domestic violence survivors.
The #MeToo movement showed us just how pervasive violence and harassment is in many workplaces, but now we have a treaty that spells the beginning of the end to such cruelty, said Begum. Governments should now ratify this treaty and seek to make a safe world of work a reality.
Sexual harassment and abuse should never be part of a job description for a woman, said Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of CARE USA. This is a global crisis that requires a global solution.
This convention means that we now have an international legal standard to specifically protect women at work from harassment and abuse. While this is a great starting point, the next step will be to put this standard into action for women everywhere, where governments ratify and domesticate the ILO Convention.
The landmark ILO Convention is the first-ever global treaty on violence and harassment in the workplace and follows years of campaigning by trade unions, civil society and women's organizations.
Over the last two years, CARE's global #March4Women campaign saw rallies and marches take place across almost 50 countries, with over 200,000 men and women standing up for gender justice in the world of work.
The ILO Convention is a historic step toward holding governments and employers accountable for ensuring that every single woman around the world has the right to work free from violence and harassment, said Nunn.
This is a testament to the power of our collective voices and those who spoke up and said: this is not working. Those who have worked tirelessly for over a decade to see this outcome and ensure real, measurable change happens for women in every profession across the globe.
There is an obligation for governments to now ratify and implement this Convention and for employers to prevent and remedy violence and harassment in a way that advances the human rights of women workers, and does so in consideration of their intersecting identities and broad range of work realities, said Krishanti Dharmaraj, Executive Director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL).
Despite the prevalence of violence and discrimination faced by women in the world of work globally, none of the ILO conventions adopted in its 100 years of existence have a specific focus on gender-based violence and its direct link to gender-based discrimination.
It is important to recognize the inextricable link between discrimination and violence. Preventing violence and harassment requires employers and governments to address gender-based discrimination against women, Dharmaraj said. This new Convention establishes a uniform set of minimum standards to prevent, identify, and provide redress in cases of gender-based violence in the world of work.
It is a milestone for women's rights from the efforts of women workers themselves, and a necessary step to ensure women's right to work in addition to decent conditions of work, and ultimately to achieve equality.
It is essential that gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work be recognized and addressed as a human rights violation. This link has already been established, and since 1993 been acknowledged by governments as women's human rights.
We now call upon States to ratify this new Convention and ensure national implementation that is compliant with existing human rights standards as expressed in the new convention, international treaties and regional instruments in order for all women to achieve dignity at work.
* Violence against women in the world of work, by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

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