Amid a growing awareness of the importance of psychological wellbeing in the workplace, the ILO adopted a new Convention and accompanying Recommendation to address violence and harassment at work, in a move which is considered the world’s first-ever global agreement against violence.

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Adopted on the sidelines of the Centenary International Labour Conference, in Geneva, in June 2019, the new international labour standard seeks to protect workers and employees, irrespective of their contractual status, defining “violence and harassment” as behaviors, practices or threats “that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.”

#5 examples of harassment

  • Sexist/Racist/ Homophobic jokes
  • Comments about a person’s physical appearance or character which causes embarrassment or stress
  • Unwelcome sexual advances or repeated requests for dates
  • Spreading malicious rumors or insulting someone
  • Unwelcome attention such as stalking and spying

According to a Gender Diversity booklet by ISWAN, WISTA and Anglo-Eastern, harassment, sexual harassment, and bullying are among the key forms of discrimination a woman can encounter while at sea.  The Gender Diversity booklet advises that, in case of harassment, the seafarer can:

  • Inform the Master or Chief Engineer or, if necessary, a helpline for support and advice.
  • If this is not possible, a second person to be identified to whom a concern can be raised.
  • The abusers may be the Master or Chief Engineer and there has to be an independent person who can be approached. This person might be the company personnel officer.

Scope of the Convention

The Convention is a legally binding international instrument and includes persons in training, interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, job seekers and job applicants. Notably, it even recognizes that “individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer” can also be subjected to violence and harassment. It covers violence and harassment occurring:

  • in the workplace including public and private spaces;
  • 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.

Why it is important

Additionally, violence at work adversely impacts productivity and enterprise reputation. A workforce that represents the diversity of society in terms of gender is more likely to understand and respond more effectively to the needs of its customer or client base.

The adoption of the Convention is considered critically important as it is establishing a globally agreed definition of violence and harassment. Now the business is in position to know what needs to be done to prevent and address it, and by whom.

In a bid to enable a smooth application of the convention, the ILO adopted a Recommendation, providing guidelines on how the Convention could be applied. The publication supports that ILO members should adopt appropriate measures, among others, for sectors or occupations and work arrangements in which exposure to violence and harassment may be more likely, such as transport, and take action to protect migrant workers, particularly women migrant workers.

Among others, they should also ensure that measures to prevent violence and harassment do not result in the restriction of the participation in specific jobs, sectors or occupations.

Additionally, perpetrators of violence and harassment at work should be held accountable and provided counselling or other measures, while labour inspectors and other competent authorities should undergo gender-responsive training with a view to identifying and addressing violence and harassment in work.

Actions taken

This landmark step is the latest in a series of actions taken already to eliminate harassment:

  • Earlier in 2019, ILO declared that the mandatory pregnancy testing is now considered a discriminatory practice.
  • The MLC recognized the negative effect that bullying and harassment can have on seafarer health and wellbeing and voted to bring these serious issues under Regulation 4.3, - the health and safety protection and accident protection code.
  • A research project launched at Kalmar maritime academy in February aims to map out methods and strategies to reduce the risk of negative special treatment in shipping.
  • In 2018, the US introduced the “Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act,” legislation that requires passenger airlines, railroads, transit agencies, operators of passenger vessels, and certain bus companies, to prescribe formal policies on sexual assault and harassment of employees and passengers in transportation.

The new standards recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment. The next step is to put these protections into practice, so that we create a better, safer, decent, working environment for women and men.

- ILO Director-General Guy Ryder welcomed the adoption.