Article 4(c) of Convention No. 190 calls for the adoption of a comprehensive strategy in order to implement measures to prevent and combat violence and harassment; while Article 8 requires countries to “take appropriate measures to prevent violence and harassment in the world of work”. This obligation applies to all possible occurrences of violence and harassment, as defined in Article 1, against persons covered under Article 2, and in all instances under Article 3, including commuting to and from work and online violence and harassment. Convention No. 190 does not encompass a list of specific measures, but allows countries the flexibility to implement the most appropriate measures based on national circumstances. 21
Box 13. Preventing violence and harassment in the world of work: Measures adopted by governments
In recent years, some countries have extended the scope of labour law protection to include categories of workers traditionally excluded, such as domestic workers. Others have amended their criminal or penal codes to make some forms of violence and harassment as an offence or to provide for increased penalties in case of abuse of a power relation or labour authority. Others have adopted measures to tackle online violence and harassment, to make public transportation safer, and to address violence and harassment in the street.
Extending the scope of labour law and OSH protection
Denmark: The 2020 the Executive Order on psychosocial working environment specifically “applies to any work performed for an employer” (sect. 2.1), including “work in the employer’s private household” (sect. 2.2.). Protection extends to all offensive behaviour, including bullying and sexual harassment (sects 22–24) and work-related violence during working hours (sect. 25), with the latter defined as “the situation where persons who are not employees or employers of the company, including citizens and customers, use violence against employees or employers”.
India: The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace also includes domestic workers. The law sets out employers’ obligations to provide a safe working environment as well as complaint mechanisms.
Mexico: In 2019, the Federal Labour Law and the Social Security Law were amended to extend protection to domestic workers, including protection against discrimination in employment conditions. Moreover, any action that seeks to undermine the worker’s dignity and integrity is also prohibited. Any dismissal that involves gender-based violence and/or discrimination shall be deemed an unjustified dismissal (Treviño 2019).
Pakistan (Sindh Province): The Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Bill passed in 2019 and provides rights to women who work in the agriculture sector, including farming, livestock and fisheries and related sectors. The law concerns their pay and minimum wages, gives them recognition, and ensures measures for promotion and protection of their rights. The law specifies that each of these women workers should perform work free from all forms of harassment or abuse.
Harassment as an offence under criminal law
Chad: Article 341 of the Penal Code, as amended in 2017, states that “whoever imposes on a person, repeatedly, sexual remarks or behaviours that undermine his or her dignity because of their degrading or humiliating character, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive situation, commits the offense of sexual harassment”. The article further provides that “sexual harassment refers to the fact, even if not repeated, of using any form of serious pressure for the real or apparent purpose of obtaining an act of a sexual nature, whether it is sought for the benefit of the perpetrator or for the benefit of a third party”.
Ecuador: Article 166 of the Penal Code, as amended in 2014, under “sexual harassment”, states as follows:
A person who requests some act of a sexual nature, for himself or for a third [party], taking advantage of a situation of labour authority, teacher … professional education or health, responsible personnel in the patient care and care or to maintain a bond family or any other form that implies subordination of the victim, with the threat of causing the victim or to a third party, an evil related to the legitimate expectations you may have in the field of said relationship, shall be punished with a custodial sentence one to three year
Gabon: Article 402 of the Penal Code, as amended in 2018, provides the following:
Constitute offenses against morals: … 3° any repeated behaviour, attitude or assiduous or suggestive speech, directly or indirectly attributable to a person who, misusing the authority or influence conferred on him by his functions or his social rank, aims to obtain sexual favours from an individual of either sex; … Anyone who is guilty of sexual harassment referred to in point 3 of this article shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of not more than six months and a fine of up to 2,000,000 francs.
Republic of Guinea: Article 277 of the Penal Code, as amended in 2016, states the following:
Sexual harassment is the act of imposing on a person, repeatedly, conversations or behaviours of a sexual nature that either undermines that person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating character, or that create a situation that is intimidating, hostile or offensive to said person. Any form of serious pressure, even if it is not repeated, which aims, for a real or apparent purpose, at obtaining an act of a sexual nature, whether sought for the benefit of the perpetrator or for the benefit of a third party is assimilated to sexual harassment.
France: In 2018, a legislative measure (Law No. 2018-703) outlawed sexual harassment in the street, rendering catcalling and lewd or degrading comments a contravention punishable by on-the-spot fines of up to €750.
Costa Rica: A Law Against Street Sexual Harassment was adopted in 2020 with the aim to “guarantee the equal right, to all people, to transit or remain free from sexual harassment in public spaces, in private spaces of public access and in means of paid transportation of people, whether public or private, establishing measures to prevent and punish this expression of violence and sexual discrimination that threatens the dignity and security of people” (art. 1). Street sexual harassment is defined as “any conduct or conduct with a sexual connotation and of a one-way nature, without the consent or acquiescence of the person or persons to whom it is directed, with the potential to cause annoyance, discomfort, intimidation, humiliation, insecurity, fear and offence, which generally comes from a person unknown to the recipient and which takes place in public spaces or public access” (art. 1). Article 2 further provides that all public institutions are mandated to carry out policiesandactions for the prevention of street sexual harassment, which contribute to eradicating gender prejudices based on the idea of superiority of men and inferiority of women, and to promote actions that include women. 22
Philippines: The 2018 Safe Spaces Act defines and criminalizes gender-based sexual harassment in public spaces, which are defined as “streets and alleys, public parks, schools, buildings, malls, bars, restaurants, transportation terminals, public markets, spaces used as evacuation centres, government offices, public utility vehicles as well as private vehicles covered by app-based transport network services and other recreational spaces such as, but not limited to, cinema halls, theatres and spas” (art. 3).
Egypt: The Egyptian National Railways identified several measures to improve women’s safety, including improved lighting, surveillance cameras, trained security staff in the most crowded stations, and a customer hotline. It also launched a gender training course for staff (Social Development Direct 2020a).
Kenya: A toolkit for public minibus transport providers in Nairobi has been developed. The toolkit includes a Customer Service Charter to improve safety for women passengers, and provides details about how to make a complaint. The Charter is displayed in buses and bus stations (UN-Habitat 2019).
Online violence and harassment
Ireland: In 2020, the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 was adopted with a view to prohibiting and criminalizing the publishing of intimate images of another person without their consent.
Mexico: In 2020 the Law on Women’s Access to a Violence-Free Life in Mexico City was amended to extend the notion of violence against women to include any acts carried out through information and communication technologies that threatens the integrity, dignity, intimacy, freedom, and private life, of women or causes psychological, physical, economic or sexual harm or suffering, both in the private and public spheres, as well as any act that causes non-material loss to them and/or their families (Mexico, n.d.).
Ethiopia: In 2020, the legislature enacted the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation, which prohibits “speech that deliberately promotes hatred, discrimination or attack against a person or a discernible group of identity, based on ethnicity, religion, race, gender or disability” on social media via text, audio, images or video.
4.2.1. How to protect informal economy workers?
While Article 8 provides for a general duty to take appropriate measures to prevent violence and harassment in the world of work, it also calls on ratifying countries to include measures in relation to the informal economy and to those sectors, occupations and work arrangements in which individuals are more exposed to violence and harassment. In particular, in relation to the informal economy, Article 8 requires ratifying countries to:
“recognize the important role of public authorities in the case of informal economy workers” (Art. 8(a)), and
“taking measures to effectively protect such persons” (Art. 8(c)).
This provision was introduced to address the fact that many informal economy workers, particularly those who work in public spaces, such as street vendors and waste pickers, face violence and harassment from public authorities in the form of confiscation of goods, demand for sexual favours or forceful dispersion (ILO 2019b).
Box 14. Examples in recent legislative reforms and social partners’ initiatives
In recent years, specific measures to protect informal economy workers have encompassed including informal economy workers within the scope of labour law, decriminalizing sidewalk vendors, easing legislation on granting permits, and ensuring their participation in relevant planning and decision- making processes.
Nicaragua: The Integral Law on Violence against Women, 2014, explicitly includes public officials as perpetrators of violence against women. Article 2 defines “violence in the public sphere” as “one that, by malicious or reckless action or omission, takes place in the community, labour and institutional or any other environment, which is perpetrated against the rights of women by any person, by State authorities, or by public officials”.
United States(California): In 2018, the State of California enacted the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act with the purpose of legalizing and decriminalizing sidewalk vending across the state. Specifically, the bill establishes parameters for local regulation of sidewalk vending and prohibits local authorities from imposing criminal penalties on sidewalk vendors.
Americas: The Trade Union Confederation of the Americas adopted Resolution No. 9 “Workers in precarious and informal situations” at its 3rd Congress in 2016, which ratified its commitment to promote the extension of rights to informal economy workers, especially women, young people, Afro-descendants and migrant workers (ILO 2016d).
Malawi: The Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Union of Malawi has introduced a number of measures to protect women workers and young girls, including a policy on sexual harassment, ratified by the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions and the Malawi Human Rights Commission in 2015 (ILO 2019f).
In addition, Paragraph 11 of Recommendation No. 206 recommends countries to provide resources and assistance for informal economy workers and employers (and their associations) in order to prevent and address violence and harassment in the informal economy when facilitating the transition to the formal economy. This provision builds on the ILO Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204), which calls for the adoption of an integrated policy framework to facilitate such a transition. This should address, among others, “the promotion of equality and the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence, including gender-based violence, at the workplace” (Para 11) (ILO 2020h; 2019f).
Box 15. Social and solidarity economy: An important ally in enabling a violence- and harassment-free working environment
Among other means, cooperatives and other forms of social and solidarity economy enable formalization by transforming what are often marginal survival activities into legally protected work, fully integrated into the mainstream economy. By providing opportunities for productive and decent employment, cooperatives have also been pivotal in improving working conditions, including preventing and addressing violence and harassment in the informal economy. In 2019 the International Co-operative Alliance approved the Declaration on Decent Work and Against Harassment, making a formal commitment towards the promotion of a decent working environment and zero tolerance for any form of sexual and moral harassment and violence in the workplace or for any misconduct, including intimidation, oppression, and discrimination, as well as any abuse of power.
Cooperatives can provide training on violence and harassment. For example, in Brazil, cooperatives have supported waste pickers to improve their income and facilitated negotiations with public authorities and private intermediaries, contributing to the improvement of occupational safety and health, legal and social protection, and prevention from violence and harassment (Dias 2020; 2016).
4.2.2. Specific measures for highly exposed sectors, occupations and work arrangements
Article 8(b)–(c) of Convention No. 190 calls on ratifying countries to identify, in consultation with the employers’ and workers’ organizations concerned and through other means, the sectors, occupations and work arrangements in which workers and other persons concerned are more exposed to violence and harassment, and to take measures to effectively protect such persons. Paragraph 9 of Recommendation No. 206 identifies some of these sectors, occupations and work arrangements: night work, work in isolation, health, hospitality, social services, emergency services, domestic work, transport, education or entertainment. 23 In stating the above, it demonstrates that the instruments are not grounded in a “one-size-fits-all” approach, but rather on the idea that the effective prevention and elimination of violence and harassment requires a deep understanding of each specific context and work environment.
Box 16. Provisions addressing violence and harassment in selected sectors, occupations or work arrangements
China adopted the first fundamental and comprehensive law for protecting healthworkers, which took effect on 1 June 2020. The law bans any organization or individual from threatening or harming the personal safety or dignity of health workers (Global Times 2019; Lancet 2020).
Denmark: Section 29 of the 2020 Executive order on psychosocial working environment provides that, “if the employee performs solitary work, which may involve a special risk of violence, the work must be arranged in such a way that the special risk of violence is countered. If the special risk of violence cannot be countered, the employee must not work alone”.
Lesotho: The 2020 National Occupational Safety and Health Policy explicitly specifies “violence and harassment” as one OSH issue that every organization or individual involved with distribution and transport shall be required to pay attention and monitor (Lesotho 2020).
Moldova: Items 6 and 9 of the Order of the Ministry of Education No. 861 approving the Code of Professional Ethics for Teachers (dated 7 September 2015) provides for a ban on any kind of harassment of teaching staff, regardless of the status and position of the harassing person, as well as a ban on sexual harassment and sexual relations with students, including by mutual consent.
Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province): Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province adopted the Healthcare Service Providers and Facilities (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2020, which seeks to: ensure the protection and security of healthcare workers and institutions; prevent violence against healthcare personnel, patients and their attendants; prevent damage or loss to property and equipment in healthcare facilities, and ensure uninterrupted provision of healthcare services. It also broadens the relevant legal definitions to offer protection to healthcare workers across various cadres and healthcare settings (including private and public sectors, as well as affording protection to healthcare workers inside healthcare facilities and in the field). The Act further prohibits the obstruction and disruption of healthcare services, the entry of unauthorized weapons inside healthcare facilities, and elaborates the responsibilities of healthcare workers and facilities to protect the rights of patients and their attendants (ICRC 2021).
Paraguay adopted the Guide to Occupational Safety and Health for Domestic Workers in 2017. The Guide provides employers and workers with information on their respective rights and obligations in the field of OSH, including violence, harassment and psychosocial risks, and promotes existing mechanisms for these cases (ILO 2017b).
Puerto Rico (United States): Article 5 of Law No. 90 of 2020 states: “Where the workplace harassment situation arises between employees of different employers, such as employees of temporary employment agencies, security companies, maintenance companies or other contractors, who interact in a common workplace, all employers involved shall have an obligation to investigate the allegation of workplace harassment, regardless of whether or not they are the direct employer of the complaining employee.”
Qatar: With the ILO’s assistance, a Guidance Tool has been developed as a resource to promote fair recruitment and employment standards in the hospitality sector. The Guidance aims to support hotel companies in Qatar to respond to labour rights challenges by implementing appropriate policies and by exercising thorough and ongoing human and labour rights due diligence (ILO 2020j).
Ukraine: The 2018 law on amendments to some legislative acts of Ukraine concerning anti-bullying (harassment) against teachers and students defines bullying as “acts of participants in the educational process that involve psychological, physical, economic, or sexual violence, including the use of electronic communications … as a result of which the victim’s mental or physical health may have been harmed”.
United States: A growing number of US states and cities have passed laws requiring hotels to provide emergency panic buttons to workers who provide in- room services. The buttons are GPS-enabled devices that alert security guards of a worker’s location if he or she feels unsafe in a room. Some cities also require hotels to establish sexual harassment policies, conduct mandatory training and provide workers with a list of local services focused on preventing sexual harassment and assault. 24
United States (California): In 2016, California adopted the SB-1299 Workplace violence prevention plans: hospitals. This Act identifies relevant components of any violence prevention plan, including: documentation and reporting, assessment of physical plant risk factors, use of surveillance and alarm systems, adequate staffing patterns, and training. It also states specifically that all healthcare workers who provide direct care to patients must receive, at least annually, training, and that all violent incidents be documented and reported, and investigated and debriefed.
Viet Nam: The 2019 Labour Code explicitly prohibits employers of domestic workers from mistreating, sexually harassing, extracting force labour from or using force of violence against the domestic worker (art. 165).
In line with Article 12 of Convention No. 190, which states that the provisions of the Convention can be applied through “collective agreements and other measures consistent with national practice”, several initiatives and measures have been recently developed and implemented by employers’ and workers’ organizations to ensure effective and tailored protection against violence and harassment in specific sectors (see box 17).
Box 17. Social partner and business-led initiatives in specific sectors
Europe: In December 2018, the Trade Unions’ National and European Administration Delegation and the European Public Administration Employers signed and adopted the Multi-sectoral Guidelines to tackle third-party violence and harassment related to work. The aim of the Guidelines is to ensure that each workplace has a results-oriented policy that addresses the issues of third-party violence. The document sets out the practical steps that can be taken by employers, workers and their representatives/trade unions to reduce, prevent and mitigate such a phenomenon (TUNED and EUPAE 2018).
Finland: In 2019, the Department of Justice published a guide – Journalists and Hate Rhetoric – as part of a campaign against hateful rhetoric, including by governmental and nongovernmental entities. Since 2019, Finland’s media companies have joined forces and set up a “journalist support fund” to counter harassment. Additionally, the Union of Journalists of Finland has issued a guide for active journalists with advice on what to do if they are the target of a hate campaign (Library of Congress 2019).
Germany: Deutsche Bahn AG, a German railway company, adopted in 2016 a company agreement “for equal treatment and protection against (sexual) harassment and discrimination”, which includes training for managers and workers and helplines for victims, and has provided training on self-defence against physical and sexual violence perpetrated by clients (ETUC 2017).
Italy: The national collective agreement for domestic workers, in force since 1 October 2020, includes a common declaration acknowledging that violence and harassment in the domestic workplace constitutes abuse and a violation of human rights. Social parties to the agreement also committed to promote initiatives to counter any behaviour incompatible with human dignity (Fidaldo et al. 2020, art. 28). In addition, in 2015, the trade unions FENEAL-UIL, FILCA-CISL and FILLEA-CGIL developed and agreed upon a “code of conduct against harassment and violence in the workplace” that is now part of the national collective agreement of the wood sector (FederlegnoArredo et al. 2015).
Jordan: Through Better Work Jordan, a joint initiative of the ILO and the International Finance Corporation, a three-year collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2019 between workers and employers in Jordan’s garment industry. The agreement introduced a clause on the elimination of violence, harassment and discrimination in the workplace and among workers. This clause was the first of its kind in collective bargaining agreements in Jordan. Creating an internal grievance redress mechanism for all workers, the agreement also prohibits pre-employment pregnancy tests. A separate collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2019 for workers in the private education sector, which addressed two forms of violence and harassment in the world of work: sexual harassment and pay discrimination (General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment and Clothing 2019).
Senegal: The Association of Musicians (AMS) and the Association of Senegalese Jurists (AJS) created a partnership with a view to supporting units in different parts of Senegal by using the network of jurists of the AJS. Senegalese musicians are offered psychological support and legal assistance to address issues of sexual harassment and gender-based violence. Furthermore, through this collaboration, “paralegals” have been trained among AMS members in order to strengthen the union’s capacity to assist its affiliates (ILO 2020f).
South Africa: A code of practice has been introduced by the South African Guild of Actors and Sisters Working in Film & TV setting out principles and policies for the elimination of sexual harassment in the film and television industry (ILO 2020i).
Spain: following an increase in online attacks on journalists, certain newspapers in Spain developed specific protocols to provide for procedures for journalists’ complaints, assessment of online harassment complaints by the newspaper’s social media team, consideration of withdrawal of comments from social media platforms, and referral to legal counsel and human resources for the purpose of filing legal actions (Library of Congress 2019).
Uganda: The Uganda Hotel Owners’ Association is promoting a programme aimed at strengthening the hotel industry’s response to HIV and AIDS in Uganda and protecting hotel workers from sexual harassment, through the provision of training to hotel managers and supervisors on issues covering violence, sexual harassment, and occupational safety and health (Social Development Direct 2020b).
21 According to the Manual for Drafting ILO Instruments, “the qualifier ‘appropriate’ is translated in French as approprié(e)(s) (i.e. adapted for a specific use or well adapted). In English it means ‘suitable’ or ‘proper’ depending on the circumstances” (ILO 2006, 114).
22 In particular, article 2 mandates the National System for the Attention and Prevention of Violence against Women and Intrafamily Violence to incorporate and promote actions of prevention, intervention and attention to sexual harassment in public spaces and public access areas. In addition, the Law also requires the police, without exception, to include in their crime prevention and citizen security programmes specific actions on street sexual harassment.
23 For an overview of recent social partner initiatives in the entertainment sector, see ILO 2020i.
24 For instance, in the State of Illinois, article 5 of Hotel and Casino Employees Safety Act states that each hotel and casino must equip employees assigned to work on their own in a guest room, restroom or casino floor with a portable emergency contact device or panic button that can be used to summon help if an employee reasonably believes there is an ongoing crime, sexual harassment or assault, or other emergency (Baratt 2019). Cities include New York, Chicago, Seattle and Santa Monica (Campbell 2019).