Opinions

What The New International Labour Standard On Violence And Sexual Harassment At Work Means For Ugandan Workers And Employers

By Pius Bigirimana

The just concluded 108th Session of the International Labour Conference held at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland closed with the adoption of a landmark International labour Standard.

In my capacity as the Africa Group Spokesperson on the Standard Setting Committee on Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work at the 107th and 108th sessions of the International Labour Conference and also Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development I presumed it imperative to provide a clear understanding of what the new standard means both on the local and international scene.

 

On Friday 21st June, the International Labour Conference adopted a Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.Why this Convention?

It is a known fact that violence and harassment in the world of work constitutes a serious human and labour rights violation. It impinges on the ability to exercise other fundamental labour rights and is incompatible with decent work. Violence in the world of work is a threat to the dignity, security, health and well-being of everyone. Uganda has had its share of violence and sexual harassment at work.

According to the ILO, over 35% of women globally aged 15 years and above have experienced sexual or physical violence at home, and in the workplace

However until 21st June 2019, no International Labour Standard addressed violence and harassment as its primary aim, none defined such violence and harassment, none sought to eliminate it from the world of work and none provided clear guidance on how to address the violence and harassment.

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Previous instruments on violence and harassment focused on certain forms of violence and specific workers only such as domestic workers, workers living with HIV and indigenous persons.

The targeted nature of the protections left a gap for the workers not covered under such instruments, who constitute the vast majority of workers around the world.

Therefore, the Convention on Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work is the first normative standard aimed at preventing and responding to violence and harassment in the world of work

The salient provisions of this Convention include:

  1. It defines “violence and harassment” in the world of work 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;
  2. The Convention makes it clear that everyone has the right to a world of work free from violence and harassment including gender-based violence and harassment

iii.            The Convention takes an inclusive approach by extending protection to all workers irrespective of their contractual status, including workers who are exercising the authority of an employer, as well as jobseekers, trainees, interns and apprentices, volunteers and among others

  1. The Convention also extends protection from violence and harassment to third parties in the world of work like clients, customers, patients, or members of the public. This covers for example medical workers who harass patients and clients who engage in acts of violence and harassment against employees.
  2. This Convention applies to violence and harassment in the world of work occurring in the course of, linked with or arising out of work in the following circumstances:
  3. a) in the workplace, including public and private spaces where they are a place of work;
  4. b) in places where the worker is paid, takes a rest break or a meal, or uses sanitary, washing and changing facilities;
  5. c) during work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities;
  6. d) through work-related communications, including those enabled by information and communication technologies;
  7. e) in employer-provided accommodation; and
  8. f) when commuting to and from work

 

  1. It gives recognition to gender based violence prevention and response in the world of work

vii.          The text makes it clear that governments, employers and workers – in the world of work have a role to play to provide and sustain a work culture that is based on mutual respect and the dignity of human beings by refraining from, preventing and addressing violence and harassment. To this end the Convention provides that:

  1. Each member state to adopt laws and regulations to define and prohibit violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence and harassment. It follows therefore that we are going to work towards ratification and domestication of the Convention
  2. Employers are required to take appropriate steps commensurate with their degree of control to prevent violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence and harassment

One of the contentious issues in the discussions was paragraph 13 of the draft Recommendations which provided a list of vulnerable groups and groups in situations of vulnerability. Among those listed were women, Persons Living with HIV/AIDS, Persons with Disabilities and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexuals (LGBTIs).

However, Uganda on behalf of Africa moved a motion arguing that the list was discriminative in nature and presentation because it was not exhaustive.

Therefore the Africa Group insisted on the dropping of the listing and instead recommended that member states be accorded the leverage to  define by national legislation vulnerable groups or groups in situations of vulnerability that are disproportionately affected by violence and harassment in the world.

Consequently, paragraph 13 of the Recommendation which contained the listing was deleted from the recommendations.

 

However, the Africa Group amendment was sub-amended by a motion co-sponsored by the European Union and the United States of America to provide that vulnerable groups and groups in situations of vulnerability should be interpreted at national level in accordance with applicable international labour standards and international human rights. The motion was unanimously adopted. This was a stark departure from the discussions in 2018 when adoption of the provision including LGBTIs among vulnerable groups was unceremoniously halted by a walk out by the Africa Group led by Uganda.

As stated earlier we are now going to initiate the process of ratification of the Convention and its subsequent domestication. We expect the workers, employers and all Ugandans to join the global effort of ending violence and harassment in the world of work.

I thank Hon. Janat Mukwaya, Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development for her wise counsel and political leadership during the last two years of negotiating this Convention.

Let me also recognize the contributions of the worker’s delegations from National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) and Central Organisation of Free Trade Unions-Uganda (COFTU), and the employer delegation from the Federation of Uganda Employers.

I also wish to thank the Africa Group for entrusting Uganda with the responsibility of being their spokesperson in the Standard Setting Committee.

The writer is the;

Spokesperson, Africa Group on the Standard Setting Committee on Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

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