ILO Convention No. 190: A monumental development to address violence and harassment at workplace
"Violence and harassment" have been broadly defined under the Convention 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"
Until June 2019, various international instruments, norms, and practices were developed by both the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations to deal with violence and harassment at workplace. All those instruments and norms focused on specific issues, targeted specific groups, and were developed in light of specific contexts. Thereafter, the Convention No. 190 concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work (Convention No. 190) was adopted with an inclusive and integrated approach and set out a fundamental set of principles for addressing violence and harassment in the places related to work. It is pertinent to mention that Bangladesh is yet to ratify the Convention.
In the international platform, the adoption of the Convention could not be timelier considering the pervasiveness of the occurrence of violence at workplaces across countries all over the world. The Convention is strong and practical and provides a clear overarching action-oriented framework as well as an opportunity to ensure decent work environment based on dignity and respect for human persons, free from violence and harassment. The Convention is a milestone that anticipated to shape future labour reforms globally. The instruments and ideas based on which the Convention came into existence gives the impression that all that had been spoken about workplace violence for more than 60 years were compiled and brought under a single instrument.
"Violence and harassment" have been broadly defined under the Convention 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" (Article 1). Article 1(b) further defines "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. Thus, the Convention takes a pragmatic approach in defining "violence and harassment" which encompasses, among others, physical abuse, verbal abuse, bullying and mobbing, sexual harassment, threats, and stalking.
The Convention applies to both private and public sectors, in both formal and informal economy; it protects everyone who works, irrespective of the contractual statuses – the trainees, interns and apprentices, including workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, jobseekers and job applicants, and individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer (Article 2). Focusing on inclusivity, the Convention also is mindful of the fact that in the present world, work does not always take place at a specific workplace within a particular infrastructure, and therefore it extends its protection across other places, including work-related trips, travels, trainings, events, or social activities (Article 3). Taking into account the changing nature of jobs and a very large number of unorganised workers within the spectrum of labour all over the world, the Convention also addresses third party violence to ensure accountability.
The Convention also recognises an all-encompassing and wide range of state obligations, which contextualise the general obligation to "respect, promote and realise the fundamental rights and principles at work" in effectively addressing violence and harassment in the world of work. The obligations include: adoption of laws and regulations to define and prohibit violence and harassment at workplace; compliance with the definition provided in the Convention; adoption of "laws, regulations and policies for ensuring right to equality and non-discrimination in employment and occupation, including for women workers, as well as for workers and other persons belonging to one or more vulnerable groups" (Article 6); taking all appropriate measures to prevent workplace violence and effectively protecting workers and adopting an effective workplace policy on violence and harassment. The Convention further recognises the obligation of each member states to monitor and enforce national laws and regulations regarding violence and harassment at workplace ensuring easy access to appropriate and effective remedies characterised by safe, fair and effective reporting and dispute resolution mechanisms and procedures in cases of violence and harassment at workplace (Article 10).
The Convention acknowledges the pervasiveness and unacceptability of violence and harassment at work, and directs the course for preventing, prohibiting, and eliminating them altogether. The comprehensive account of the Convention is therefore rightly expected to change attitudes of workplaces across member states with regard to violence and harassment.
Ratification of the Convention by Bangladesh could bring forth significant positive changes in the realm of work for Bangladesh and could institutionalise the dealing of violence and harassment at workplace and thereby protect women and other vulnerable groups.