Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

International Labor Organization Fights Gender-Based Workplace Violence and Harassment

June 27th, 2019 | Cassandra Waters

Image result for cassandra waters afl cioEight years ago, women union leaders and activists began campaigning for the International Labor Organization to tackle gender-based violence and harassment at work. Last week, at the ILO’s 100thanniversary, workers, governments and employers votedoverwhelmingly to approve a binding Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

This victory is a testament to the power of trade unionists organizing around the globe. It’s also a reflection of the profound need for tools to address the harassment and violence too many workers, particularly women workers, face as a daily reality.

The ILO is a tripartite institution, meaning workers have a seat at the negotiating table. Led by our spokesperson Marie Clarke Walker from the Canadian Labour Congress, worker representatives from around the world spent the past two years negotiating strong, inclusive language that ensures all workers have meaningful protection from violence and harassment, particularly gender-based violence and harassment.

You can check out the full convention here, and a supplemental recommendation that further clarifies the obligations spelled out in the convention here. Some highlights include:

  • Establishing that everyone has a right to a world of work free from violence and harassment, and every country that ratifies the convention will “promote and realize” that right.

  • Protecting all workers, regardless of their contractual status, in both the formal and informal economy, as well as interns, apprentices, jobseekers, job applicants, volunteers, terminated workers and employers as individuals.

  • Ensuring protections not just in the physical worksite but in the broader world of work?—such as work-related trips and social events, places where workers are paid, rest or use sanitary and washing facilities, employer-provided accommodations and during the commute.

  • Addressing violence and harassment committed by or against third parties.

  • Requiring each national government that ratifies the convention to:

    • Adopt an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach for the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, which should be developed in consultation with workers and their unions.

    • Enact both preventative measures and access to remedy, including gender-responsive, safe and effective complaint and dispute resolution mechanisms, support, services and remedies.

    • Identify sectors, occupations and work arrangements that leave workers more vulnerable to violence and harassment.

    • Promote collective bargaining as an important tool to address violence and harassment.

    • Provide specific protections for women and other vulnerable groups.

    • Require employers to take steps to prevent violence and harassment, including developing a workplace policy, providing support and training and identifying and addressing workplace hazards in consultations with workers and unions.

The United States worker delegation included leaders from UNITE HERE Local 1 Chicago’s “Hands Off, Pants On” campaign. The Hands Off, Pants On campaign demonstrates the importance of many of the convention’s provisions. Hotel housekeepers primarily face violence and harassment from third parties. A survey found more than half of housekeepers in Chicago had a guest expose themselves, with many recounting harrowing stories of jumping over furniture or locking themselves in bathrooms to escape unwanted sexual advances. Local 1 successfully negotiated protections, including panic buttons, into collective agreements for unionized housekeepers and then campaigned for a citywide ordinance to provide the same protections for all housekeepers in Chicago. This is an excellent example of how unions can use their power to win meaningful protections for workers.

To read more about what unions can do to prevent sexual harassment specifically, check out our toolkit; and for excellent examples of how unions tackle violence and harassment around the world check out this report.

Winning the convention is an important victory, but in many ways it is just the beginning. Now, workers will turn to ensuring governments widely ratify and implement these important protections to end violence and harassment in the world of work.

This article was originally published at Aflcio on June 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Cassandra Waters is the global worker rights specialist at the AFL-CIO.

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