“Collective bargaining ultimately is about transforming lives,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, who moderated a panel discussion launching the report. “Not only do better wages and working conditions result from collective bargaining, but workers report dignity and respect on the job for the first time through collective bargaining and unions.”
Report author Mark Anner, director of Pennsylvania State University Center for Global Workers’ Rights, highlighted some key findings of the report. He said:
Workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement are 25.3 percent less likely to feel compelled to migrate than workers without a collective bargaining agreement.
Honduran garment workers with a collective bargaining agreement are 67 percent more likely to always have the choice to work overtime or not.
Workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement are 20.3 percent more likely to face verbal abuse.
Female workers without a collective bargaining agreement are 10.7 percent more likely to face sexual harassment on the job.
Workers with collective bargaining agreements earn 7 percent more than workers without collective bargaining agreements.
“Workers experience tangible and intangible benefits from having collective bargaining agreements,” Anner said. He quoted some workers as saying, “We are listened to now” and “Management shows us respect as workers.”
The report documents the expansion of collective bargaining agreements in the maquila sector, following a 2009 binding agreement between workers and a garment manufacturer. As of last year, 50,625 workers, mostly in the garment industry, were covered by 21 collective bargaining agreements in the Honduran export assembly sector.
Bader-Blau emphasized that the report shows the importance of worker-driven research, as suggested by the Solidary Center. “Unions lead and show outcomes to the rest of the world through the power of their own stories,” she said.
Union leaders like Eva Argueta, a leader in organizing tens of thousands of garment workers in Honduras, led the process of connecting with workers to help them share their work experiences.
Speaking on the panel, Argueta, representative for the General Workers Central (CGT, Honduras) and Maquila Organizing Project coordinator, described the process. “The person responding is much more likely to trust someone that they know who is doing the survey,” she said. “It can be a delicate thing because of the fear the boss might find out.”
Worker-leaders interviewed a total of 387 workers with and without collective bargaining agreements.
Other panelists included Joel López, general secretary of the Independent Federation of Workers of Honduras (FITH), Tara Mathur, field director for the Americas at the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), and María Elena Sabillón, Solidarity Center senior coordinator in Honduras.
As Sabillón shared in her remarks, “Collective bargaining agreements allow for real progress in both labor and human rights. CBAs today go beyond economic clauses. Unions are winning clauses on gender equality, combating gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work and respecting the dignity of each person. These CBAs are validating a broader rights-based approach.”
Labor leaders, policymakers and stakeholders from around the world discussed efforts to prevent gender-based violence and harassment at the workplace at a panel discussion, “Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work” on Thursday, April 7. The panel was part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Global Deal conference, “A Better Future for Essential Workers.”
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Sabina Dewan, president and executive director of the JustJobs Network moderated the panel. Speakers included: Philippe Symons, Sodexo chief ethics officer; Claudio Moroni, Argentina Minister of labor, employment and social security; Sandra Hassan, Canada deputy minister of labor; Shawna Bader-Blau, Solidarity Center executive director; Frances Onokpe, Federation of Informal Workers Organization of Nigeria program officer; and Joaquin Pérez Rey, Spain’s vice minister for employment and social security.
Moroni began the discussion by describing Argentina’s efforts to address workplace violence and harassment. “Argentina has a long history of confronting violence and harassment in the workplace,” Moroni said. “The labor ministry believes there’s no such thing as an effective standard unless it includes behavioral results.”
To that end, Moroni said the ministry is working with female union leaders to include language in collective bargaining agreements to counter violence and develop a law to regulate the implementation of International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190) in Argentina. Moroni closed his remarks by re-emphasizing the importance of concrete results. “Laws are not effective unless they are translated into concrete action. We are working to make sure these efforts are translated into specific conduct.”
Hassan said that Canada is in the process of C190, “One of our priorities is to continue making sure workplaces are safe and inclusive for everyone,” she said. “The ratification of C190 is a top priority of the government of Canada.” A year ago, Canada brought forth groundbreaking legislation to prevent violence and harassment in federal workplaces. “We also developed a fund that supports partner organization projects that develop sector-specific tools and practices to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace,” Hassan said.
Bader-Blau described the Solidarity Center’s partnership with Lesotho-based trade unions and women’s rights groups, global fashion brands and international rights organizations to secure a safe and dignified workplace for women employed in the country’s predominantly female garment sector. The partnership resulted in a precedent-setting program to comprehensively address rampant gender-based violence and harassment in garment factories. The program was established by two negotiated and enforceable agreements to mandate education and awareness trainings for all employees and managers, an independent reporting and monitoring system, and remedies for abusive behavior.
“These agreements were signed among apparel brands to combat violence and harassment in Lesotho’s garment sector,” Bader-Blau said. “The agreements link businesses to a commitment to eliminate gender-based violence and harassment.
“The program is also focused on culture change,” Bader-Blau said. “Thousands of workers have participated in two-day training sessions about gender-based violence and harassment.” As part of the program, Workers Rights Watch “trains intake counselors who listen with empathy and are empowered to take action.” As a result, “workers are starting to believe that employers are committed to ending gender-based violence and harassment. “The lesson we learned is that worker-led solutions matter.”
Bader-Blau also described what’s needed to replicate the success in Lesotho. “We need to move from good global framework agreements to negotiated solutions that hold suppliers and buyers accountable, not voluntary codes of conduct. We need to hear from global brands if that’s what they want to do. We need to invest in systems that recognize that abuse is common, and we need to invest in systems that establish third-party interventions.”
The Global Deal is a multi-stakeholder initiative for social dialogue and inclusive growth–a partnership of governments, businesses and employers’ organizations, trade unions, civil society and other organizations. The aim of the Global Deal partnership is to benefit from and contribute to, a platform that highlights the value of social dialogue and strengthens existing cooperation structures.
Unions in Sri Lanka are urging the government to follow through with its promise to ratify a global treaty to end gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work by March 2022.
The Sri Lanka Trade Union Movement for the Ratification of ILO C190 in Sri Lanka, comprised of 17 trade union leaders from the public and private sectors, held a press conference in recent days to call out the government for deliberately delaying the ratification process.
International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190) is the first international treaty that addresses violence and harassment at work. The ILO adopted it in 2019 during its annual meeting in Geneva.
“There is no point in raising your hand in Geneva, only to lower your hand in Sri Lanka,” Saman Rathnapriya, chairman of the Government Nursing Officers Association said at the press conference.
“Create a proper working environment in the country. A conducive working environment does not exist in this country.”
Union leaders noted that Sri Lanka’s Labor Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva had promised ratification by March 2022 during a March 2021 Women’s Day event organized by the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka (NUSS), and in numerous other public venues.
Informal workers are routinely excluded from economic and political decision-making, and their work is systematically devalued and made invisible. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified these dynamics and has resulted in skyrocketing rates of domestic violence, bringing a renewed urgency to address poverty, exclusion and precarious work.
Labor leaders, organizers and advocates from around the world gathered on December 2 for a virtual panel discussion of the impact of gender-based violence and harassment (GVBH) on workers in the informal economy. The discussion was sponsored by the Global 16 Days Campaign (coordinated by Center for Women’s Global Leadership), Global Alliance of Wastepickers, HomeNet International, International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), Solidarity Center, StreetNet International and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO).
Robin Runge, Solidarity Center Equality and Inclusion Department co-director, moderated the panel, which included: Chidi King, branch chief, Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, International Labor Organization (ILO); Carmen Britez, vice president, International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF); Janhavi Dave, international coordinator, HomeNet International; Sonia George, general secretary, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and a SEWA homeworker; and Saraswati Rijal, central committee member, Independent Transport Workers Association of Nepal (ITWAN).
Chidi King, branch chief, Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, International Labor Organization (ILO)
Chidi King framed the discussion, citing the themes and issues to be addressed. “As we all know, violence and harassment in the world of work is a manifestation of the societal issue that has deep roots in the continued tolerance of violence and harassment,” King said, “particularly towards women and population groups that too often find themselves on the margins of society.”
Women workers, who make up the majority of informal economy workers in many countries, are disproportionately affected. “Violence and harassment have deep roots in social norms and stereotypes,” King said, “especially around the roles assigned to men and women.
“And as a connection to inequality and discrimination suggests,” King added, “violence and harassment is also deeply rooted in unequal power relations, and the abuse thereof, in our societies, as in the world of work.” Thus workers play an important role in addressing and remedying violence and harassment, including addressing the impacts of domestic violence in the world of work.
ILO Convention 190 (C190) protects all workers and recognizes that for many the workplace is not an office or factory setting, but can be a public space or private. C190 protects informal economy workers, who work in their own homes or the homes of others, and recognizes the impact of domestic violence in their workplaces.
However, many countries’ laws do not recognize homes as workplaces, leaving many workers in the informal economy lacking protection against violence and harassment and without access to social safety nets. During the COVID-19 pandemic, informal workers have experienced high rates of domestic violence and difficulty accessing social support services that have been put on hold.
Saraswati Rijal spoke about working with women tuk-tuk drivers in Nepal to build support for women workers during the pandemic and supporting victims of domestic violence. COVID-19 has only made conditions worse, as women workers are forced to choose between their and their families’ health or earning an income and risking being subjected to unnecessary hazards.
Workers in the informal sector “do not have any economic security,” Rijal said. “And moreover, due to COVID-19, they are deprived of their daily wages, and they are also unable to earn their living and sustain their livelihood.”
Carmen Britez spoke of IDWF’s work with the Ministry of Labor in Argentina to develop exclusive protection for domestic workers around domestic violence. Domestic workers suffer not just from not having registered employment, but from also having no protection against violence. Britez said that lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic have forced many domestic workers to be shut in with their abusers.
Argentina ratified C190 in November 2020. Britez emphasized C190’s role as a tool to push for national legislation: “We were pushing for this convention so that it could become another tool in changing national law. If we have laws that protect us around violence, we want something that would not only include specific sectors but all sectors at a national level. Because that’s really important for us as women workers.”
“It’s also important to say this is not just an issue facing women. “We do account for the majority of those who are suffering from this kind of violence,” Britez added. “But it also is important for us to let our [union] leadership, who are often men, to let them know that it’s also their responsibility to push for a national law on this topic.”
To underscore the urgency of the issue, Britez shared that during her remarks her center received news of a woman whose employer broke her wrist.
Janhavi Dave spoke of the scale of the problem of domestic violence and its impact on women workers. “According to one of the recent ILO studies, there are over 260 million home-based workers, which is around 8 percent of global employment. This was prior to the pandemic, and this number has only increased,” Dave said. “According to the same study, 56 percent of home-based workers are women. So we’re actually talking about a huge section of women workers.”
HomeNet South Asia, a regional organization, conducted a study on the impact of domestic violence on home-based workers in Nepal, and is conducting similar studies in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. “One of the key findings was that home-based workers faced rampant domestic violence,” Dave said, “which has a direct impact not only on physical and emotional health but also on productivity.”
Sonia George, general secretary, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
SEWA’s Sonia George introduced a traditional bamboo worker, who shared her experience as the sole earner for her family, which included her husband and their two children. Her husband, she said, was supportive in the beginning of the marriage, but became physically violent after he was out of work. Sibimol was forced to leave her traditional job and go to work in a latex factory in order to earn a livelihood and escape domestic violence at home.
“This is the experience of most of the women in India,” George said after Sibimol shared her story. “We know that most of these women have experienced domestic violence. One of the statistics states that during the time of COVID, domestic violence has increased 2.5 times. That means women in India are suffering that much more violence.”
Lorraine Sibanda shared how COVID-19 also worsened conditions for women workers in Zimbabwe. “The pandemic exposed adverse challenges for women,” Sibanda said, “because they are performing unpaid care work, domestic care work, on top of providing for their families.” Measures to control the spread of COVID-19 compromised livelihoods and increased economic strain on families supported by the informal economy.
Lockdowns and restrictions also increased rates of domestic violence. “It meant that women and girls were locked down in their homes,” Sibanda said. “They were forced to spend time enclosed with families, and possibly many were trapped at home with their abusers.”
Married and partnered women also faced physical violence from husbands and male partners for refusing to hand over their earnings. “They would be abused physically because they refused to hand over money, which they’ve been working for, to their partners, so that their partners could either go for a drink or use that money,” Sibanda said. She also suggested that Zimbabwe had seen an increase in child marriage. ”There was this rampant trait of people marrying off children in order to gain economically.
“All in all, the pandemic amplified the vulnerability of women and girls,” Sibanda concluded.
A new report by the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and the Solidarity Center, “Breaking the Silence: Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria’s World of Work,” finds that gender-based violence and harassment (GVBH) at work is widespread in Nigeria, but goes largely unreported. The report looks at the pervasiveness of GVBH in Nigeria—which boasts Africa’s largest economy, the continent’s biggest trade union movement, and a growing population of 200 million.
A lack of worker-led research about the scope and incidence of GBVH in Nigeria’s world of work, poor implementation and enforcement of laws and workplace policies, entrenched discriminatory gender norms, and an inadequate legal framework hampered civil society and union efforts to address the problem. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these dynamics, exposing many workers, particularly women and other marginalized workers, to an even higher risk of GBVH.
The NLC and the Solidarity Center partnered to address the lack of data on GBVH in the world of work. The NLC established a women and youth structure known as the National Women Commission in September 2003, which works with NLC affiliates and stakeholders to promote gender equality and empower women and youth to take on leadership positions. It facilitates programs that address GBVH at work.
Through this structure, women workers successfully campaigned for the NLC sexual harassment policy. This victory paved the way for women to play a leading role in the adoption of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 190 (C190)—the first global, binding treaty that recognizes the fundamental right to a workplace free from violence and harassment, including GBVH.
The court’s recommendation is a direct result of awareness training with market vendors about their right to GBVH-free workplaces. Following the ILO’s adoption of C190 in 2019, the NLC and the Solidarity Center began training workers to put into practice provisions preventing GBVH. A newly formed GBVH task force in the market brought attention to the alleged assault, leading to a trial in Nigeria’s high court.
Breaking The Silence
The report results from efforts by women workers to provide concrete evidence regarding the scope and incidence of GBVH at work and break the silence to tell their stories of strength and courage.
Women workers identified two locations for study in Abuja and Lagos. Then, they drafted questions and conducted one-on-one interviews with peers. In the first stage—from September 7, 2020, to October 29, 2020—researchers interviewed 425 women. During the second stage—from December 7, 2020, to February 26, 2021—researchers 494 women. In total, women workers interviewed 919 of their peers and captured data across eight sectors, including the informal economy, manufacturing, healthcare, education, construction, media, hospitality and the public sector.
Behind these numbers are women workers like Amina,* an office cleaner who says she was sexually assaulted by a supervisor and was laid off by her employer. Saraya, a market porter, says she experienced groping and inappropriate touching while commuting to and from work and sexual harassment on the job.
Magdalene, a quality inspector at a bottling company, says she was sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by her supervisors. “I find that the joy that comes with going to work every day is no more there,” she said.
Ada has co-owned a bar with her husband. His domestic violence in their marriage extends to her workplace. “I have never reported to anyone. You are the first person I am sharing this with,” she told an interviewer.
An anonymous male youth trader spoke of the need for more training on GBVH. “We need training on GBVH for men in our market,” he said. “I believe that trainings will go a long way in sensitizing men on the negative impact of GBVH on the lives of women and children.”
Regina Otorkpa, who interviewed women workers, says, “GBVH is a monster silently destroying the confidence and future of survivors still struggling to speak out due to fear of society, fear of self and discrimination.
“Having interacted with survivors of the different forms of GBVH in Nigeria’s world of work, it has become important for the Nigerian government to step up and take a bold step towards C190 ratification. I urge women to be brave and courageous to unmask their fears; it is important that we stop the stigmatization; the struggle against GBVH is a collective one for the good of all.”
Findings and Recommendations
The report unveils high rates of GBVH at work, which goes largely unreported. Findings include:
More than half (57.5 percent) of women workers interviewed said they experienced GBVH in the world of work.
Nearly 44 percent said their supervisor or superior had said or done something that made them uneasy due to their gender.
Only 19.6 percent said they reported incidents of GBVH at work.
More than one-third (35.9 percent) said they rarely received justice even when they reported violations.
Some 44 percent said they had suffered gender discrimination that affected their career advancement.
Nearly one-third (28.8 percent) said they were pressured for sexual favors at work and touched in ways that made them uncomfortable.
Based on this research, the NLC’s recommendations for unions, employers and the Nigerian government include:
Increased education and awareness of GBVH among workers, managers and supervisors, the general public and policymakers, including its root causes and impacts and the responsibility of all workers to end it.
Ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 190 concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, including GBVH.
Development of workplace policies to address GBVH and gender discrimination, including safe, confidential processes for reporting incidents; transparent processes for investigation of allegations; remedies for workers who experience GBVH; penalties for perpetrators; and changes to how work is organized to address power imbalances and other risk factors for GBVH in the world of work.
Adoption of national legislation incorporating the definition of GBVH from ILO C190, protecting the entire world of work and covering all workers regardless of contractual status, including workers in the informal economy.
*All names are pseudonyms to protect the identities of women workers.
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