This year, the International Labour Conference celebrates its 100th anniversary. Rather than reminisce about the past, ILO is focused on present and future challenges. In June 2019, ILO adopted a new convention, which aims to combat violence and harassment in the workplace. In the following, we will provide you with a summary of the content and explain why the implementation will be a challenge.
Even though we can only see the tip of the iceberg, violence and harassment in the world of work remains a huge problem. Up until now, we did not even have a universal definition of “harassment” and “violence” in the workplace – let alone common values, management frameworks and sanctions.
The #MeToo movement showed us just how pervasive violence and harassment is in many workplaces. Studies indicate that the prevention of violence in the workplace is worthwhile, not just for humanitarian reasons but also for economic reasons: a safe working environment makes employees more productive and motivated.
The centenary International Labour Conference has now adopted a new Convention, which indicates a paradigm shift. The document 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 reminds member states that they have a responsibility to promote a “general environment of zero tolerance”.
The convention defines violence and harassment, aims to protect workers and employees irrespective of their contractual status and is valid for a great number of workplaces. Here you can access the document.
WHO IS PROTECTED WHERE AND AGAINST WHAT?
The 190 ILO-Convention 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.”
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.
“The new standards recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment,” said Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General. ”The next step is to put these protections into practice, so that we create a better, safer, decent, working environment for women and men. I am sure that, given the co-operation and solidarity we have seen on this issue, and the public demand for action, we will see speedy and widespread ratifications and action to implement.”
With the ratification, Member States pledge themselves to implement the convention into national law. The Convention will enter into force 12 months after two Member States have ratified it. In Germany the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is responsible for the implementation of the ILO-Convention. Hubertus Heil (SPD), Minister of Labour said: “Against the background of the worldwide #MeToo Debate the ILO created an effective instrument on UN-Level. Violence and harassment in the world of work needs to be condemned and combatted. Germany commits to this and will work on the fast ratification of the convention.”
Legally speaking, we can already anticipate changes. Needless to say, however, a convention alone will not have immediate consequences in practice. Why? Because violence and harassment is very difficult to detect. Studies show that many interconnected factors lead to the occurrence of violence and harassment and that there are many reasons not to speak up, no matter what the law states. The Convention acknowledges this problem and calls for awareness training.
As a certification and auditing body, it is essential that our auditors recognize risk factors that may lead to violence and harrassment. For this reason, we launched the Initiative for the Promotion of Gender Awareness in Social Auditing (ProGASA). In an E-learning course, launched in 2019, we raise awareness about the issue among social auditors. This way we want to do our part to make sure that social audits become a more effective instrument to combat gender-related harassment and discrimination in the workplace.