Analysis: INUTU MUSHAMBATWA
THE 2018 May/June International Labour Conference had a new committee that specifically looked at setting standards on violence and harassment in the world of work.The committee proposed that the standards should take the form of a convention supplemented by a recommendation.
It also looked at the definition and scope of violence and harassment in the world of work, although generally.
What then is violence and harassment in the world of work? According to the committee’s resolutions, and for the purpose of standard setting, the term “violence and harassment” in the world of work should be considered as “a range of unacceptable behaviours 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” (Committee on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, 2018).
The committee further defined the term “gender-based violence and harassment” as violence and harassment directed at persons because of their sex or gender or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, including sexual harassment.
One might then ask, who is the worker and what is the world of work? The term worker covers people in the formal and informal economy, including urban or rural areas, and employees as defined by their country’s labour laws. This also includes interns, volunteers, job seekers, job applicants, laid-offs, as well as flexi staff.
Therefore, violence and harassment in the world of work encompasses situations occurring in the course of linked with or arising out of work: in the workplace, including public and private spaces where they are a place of work; in places where the worker is paid, takes a rest break or a meal, or uses sanitary and washing facilities; when commuting to and from work; during work-related trips or travel, training, events or social activities; through work-related communications enabled by information and communications technology; and in employer-provided accommodation.
Consequently, victims in the world of work can be employers and workers, and their respective representatives and third parties, including clients, customers, service providers, users, patients and the public.
In order to understand what violence and harassment in the world of work is, it is important to appreciate that this is a form of violation of human rights, and threatens equal opportunities. It is unacceptable and does not comply with decent work.
The committee on violence and harassment in the world of work noted that member states must have zero tolerance to violence and harassment in order to prevent bad behaviour, to deter would-be offenders in the world of work and address this issue.
Therefore, the conclusions of the committee on what should be noted by persons in the world of work, is that violence and harassment affects a person’s psychological, physical and sexual health, dignity, family and social environment. It is also important to acknowledge that violence and harassment affects the quality of public and private services and may prevent people, women in particular, from furthering their careers. Therefore, violence and harassment affects workplace relations, reputation and productivity of the worker.
Thus tackling violence and harassment in the world of work includes identifying possible causes and risk factors such as gender stereotypes, discrimination and unequal gender-based power relations. These are important in ending violence and harassment in the world of work.
Further, each member state has been tasked to come up with preventive measures to ensure that the worker is protected when he or she is the victim, as well as the privacy and confidentiality of those individuals involved.
This also includes identifying, in consultation with employers and workers’ organisations concerned, and through other applicable means, sectors, occupations and work arrangements in which workers are more exposed to violence and harassment.
Another risk factor to violence and harassment is domestic violence, of which governments have been called upon to respond to and address it. Member states have been tasked to formulate national laws and policies that prevent violence and harassment in the world of work and raise awareness on this issue.
Therefore, apart from coming up with fundamental principles and rights at work and preventive measures, member states have also been asked to come up with mechanisms of enforcement, monitoring and victim support. Such support includes ensuring that workers have the right to withdrawal from a work situation which they have reasonable justification to believe presents imminent and serious danger to their life or health due to violence and harassment.
Of particular note is that Zambia has made strides in developing the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act, which covers domestic violence and the mechanisms of reporting.
This is great progress. However, what remains to be done are the evaluations and monitoring of these reporting systems or structures to check how effective they are. It is also important to consider that a worker might have channels of reporting violence and harassment in the world of work but there might not be sufficient structures to protect such a person or persons when they happen to be victims of violence and harassment.
What the committee on violence and harassment in the world of work listed down as the most disproportionately affected groups were: younger and older workers; pregnant and breastfeeding workers, and workers with family responsibilities; workers with disabilities; workers living with HIV; migrant workers; workers from indigenous and tribal peoples; workers who are members of the ethnic or religious minorities; caste-affected workers. And the ILO violence and harassment in the world of work committee further contentiously, and without consensus, listed down the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming workers (LGBT) as vulnerable groups. Africa and some countries in the Middle East did not agree to the listing of LGBT as vulnerable groups of harassment and violence in the world of work.
This was strongly objected to in the committee as Africa and Zambia in particular stated that LGBT is a foreign cultural practice that is being forced by Western countries. Africa was recorded as having objected to the inclusion of LGBT as vulnerable persons and called on the United Nations to respect the cultural values of Africans.
As a result, it was resolved that the definition and scope of violence and harassment in the world of work should be general so as to allow individual member countries to come up with their own specific definitions according to their social contexts, although there can be universal accepted standards.
This is because violence and harassment in the world of work hinges on cultural and social values of persons, which vary from one geographic location to another, although there can be agreed universal standards.
The author is public relations officer, Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
Analysis: INUTU MUSHAMBATWA