ILO considers treaty on workplace harassment

The ILO says it began considering a treaty to protect workers from harassment and violence well before the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations Keystone

The annual International Labour Organization (ILO) conference has kicked off in Geneva with talks focusing on a new international treaty to protect workers from harassment and violence which could be adopted in 2019. 

This content was published on May 28, 2018 - 15:28

Over 5,000 worker, government and employer delegates from ILO’s 187 member states are gathered at the United Nations Palais des Nations for the International Labour Conference, which runs from May 28 to June 8. 

The issue of violence andExternal link harassment against women and men in the world of workExternal link External link is one of the highlights of the ten-day session, as delegates discuss a proposed new international legal instrument – a Convention or a Recommendation, or a combination of both – to protect workers. 

ILO director-general Guy Ryder says the ILO started discussing such an idea in 2015, well before the recent spate of sexual misconduct allegations against high-profile figures such as American film producer Harvey Weinstein, and the spread of the #MeToo campaign worldwide. 

“During these first discussions [in Geneva] we hope to define the scope of a possible international standard [on the issue of protecting workers from violence and harassment]. This step is essential to be able to finalise a text that we hope can be adopted in 2019 - ILO’s centenary year,” Ryder told the Tribune de Genève on Monday. 

The ILO External linksays efforts have been made at different levels to address the issue of violence and harassment in the workplace but believes there are there many gaps in legal protections. They include a lack of coherent laws, a lack of coverage in laws and policies for workers most exposed to violence, and an overly narrow definition of “workplace” in existing laws and regulations. 

A separate World Bank “Women, Business and the Law 2018” reportExternal link revealed that 59 out of the 189 countries studied had no specific legal provisions covering sexual harassment in the workplace. 

+ Harassment at work - a Swiss perspective

In reply to a government and union consultation last year by ILO, Switzerland said it supported the idea of a legal instrumentExternal link

“The establishment of one or more instruments is appropriate to mainstream gender in the field of work, to provide increased protection, particularly considering the increasing proportion of women in the labour market, and to raise awareness of risks of harassment stemming from new technologies,” it stated. 

But Bern says it will wait until the end of the Geneva discussions before deciding what form the instrument should take.  

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