The Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, and Violence and Harassment Recommendation, 2019, were overwhelmingly 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 says, “everyone has a right to a world of work free from violence and harassment”. In other words, this is not a matter of good practice or responsible behaviour, but rather, a right.
Many Conventions and Recommendations apply to all workers; however, employment relationships often effectively deny workers the possibility to effectively exercise those rights. That will be a risk with these instruments as well, however, they anticipate that possibility by clearly stating that it applies regardless of contract status. It also applies to violence and harassment of those who are third parties; people involved with the workplace without being workers, including members of the public. They also go beyond physical workplaces and extend, for example, to on-line behaviour and social gatherings of workers.
Although the Convention and Recommendation applies to women and men, it recognises that violence and harassment are often linked to the weak power of women in the workplace. This is important to finding ways to most effectively deal with violence and harassment and transform the workplace.
The standards take into account relevant aspects of domestic violence, also most often victimising women, in the workplace. Ways can be developed to reduce the impact of domestic violence on workers. This might include policies of employers or in collective agreements to help victims like paid domestic violence leave.
BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson, who had called for the adoption of the Convention and Recommendation in his remarks to the International Labour Conference, stated, “This is a historic breakthrough not only because it covers violence and harassment at the workplace as a rights issue subject to international law, but also because it reflects remarkable progress in attitudes in recent years.”
“There was a time when damage to health and injuries on the job were considered by many as just being part of working. Similarly, violence and harassment at work has been, for a very long time, in the shadows and workers, especially women workers, put up with it because they did not see a way out. The centenary International Labour Conference has shined the light of day on these shameful and unacceptable, but all too common practices.”
Rita Schiavi, Chair of the BWI International Women’s Committee and who had participated in the proceedings in 2018 and this year stated, “We must seize the opportunity to obtain ratifications and implementation of this Convention to ensure that governments enforce it and that the social partners. in their negotiations and in their daily presence and activities in the workplace, give life to these inspiring principles.”
The BWI and its affiliates has been actively campaigning nationally and globally to stop gender-based violence. A key component of this campaign was to push for a ILO Convention and Recommendation.