Campaign Vows to End Gender-Based Violence at Work

Campaign Vows to End Gender-Based Violence at Work

No global data document gender-based violence at work. But across the board, gender-based violence remains one of the most tolerated violations of workers’ human rights. Some 35 percent of women over age 15—818 million women globally—have experienced sexual or physical violence at home, in their communities or in the workplace.

The Solidarity Center and allies throughout the international labor, human and women’s rights communities are campaigning for an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention to stop violence and harassment at work. As part of the process, begun many months ago, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is now spearheading efforts to lobby governments and employer organizations around the world for their input and support. (The ITUC campaign toolkit includes talking points, resources and tips for lobbying your government.)

Allies are building awareness for passage of a convention and distributing an ILO questionnaire to their government representatives soliciting comments and support in advance of a September 22 deadline. When ILO member states ratify a convention, they commit to applying it in national law and practice, and complaints can be made against countries for violations. In June 2018, the ILO International Labor Conference (ILC) will take up the issue.

Gender-Based Violence: Worse Without Freedom to Form Unions

Domestic workers, whose isolation in employer homes makes them especially vulnerable to abuse, are strongly championing its passage. Building on the tactics of their successful global campaign for the 2011 ratification of ILO Convention 189 covering domestic workers—the last convention the ILO passed—they are reproducing those steps to ensure support for a convention to end gender-based violence at work, says Elizabeth Tang, general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).

“Gender-based violence is always worse when there is no freedom of association,” Solidarity Center Policy Director Molly McCoy said earlier this year. “When workers are not organized (in unions), they don’t have resources to tackle gender-based violence.” McCoy moderated a Solidarity Center panel in New York on gender-based violence at work in conjunction with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meetings.

Gender-Based Violence Includes Physical, Mental Abuse

In a detailed report issued in advance of the 2018 ILO conference, the ILO describes gender-based violence as affecting both women and men, but notes that unequal status and power relations in society and at work often result in women being far more exposed to violence and harassment, which can be physical, psychological and sexual.

In addition, the ILO uses the term “world of work” for a proposed convention, because gender-based violence occurs not only in the physical workplace, but during the work commute, at work-related social events, in public spaces—the primary venue for informal workers such as street vendors—and in the home, in particular for domestic workers and teleworkers.

Addressing violence and harassment through an international standard is key to the objectives of achieving decent work for all and addressing gender inequality in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Goal 8 and Goal 5). A new standard would be preventative, by addressing negative societal and workplace cultures, and “should also be able to respond to the new challenges and risks which might lead to violence and harassment in the world of work, such as those arising from changing forms of work and technology,” according to an October 2016 report by the UN Meeting of Experts on Violence against Women and Men in the World of Work.

ITUC Report: Global Rise in Violence, Repression of Workers

ITUC Report: Global Rise in Violence, Repression of Workers

Workers around the world experienced rising physical violence and threats over the last year—and in more countries–according to this year’s ITUC Global Rights Index. The report documents attacks on union members in 59 countries and shows that 60 percent of countries are now excluding entire groups of workers from labor law.

“We need to look no further than these shocking figures to understand why economic inequality is the highest in modern history. Working people are being denied the basic rights through which they can organize and collectively bargain for a fair share,” said Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation general secretary.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Millions of people are still enslaved under the kefala system in the Gulf, making the Middle East and North Africa once again the worst region for treatment of workers
  • Unionists were murdered in 11 countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Mauritania, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines and Venezuela
  • The number of countries in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased from 52 to 59 countries, including Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia and Ukraine
  • Eighty-four countries exclude entire categories of workers from labor law
  • More than three-quarters of countries deny some or all workers their right to strike
  • More than three-quarters of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining
  • Out of 139 countries surveyed, 50 deny or restrict free speech and freedom of assembly.

The report ranks the 10 worst countries for worker rights in 2017 as Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Read the report: ITUC Global Rights Index 2017
Download the ITUC Global Rights Index map
Download the ITUC Global Rights Index Infographic – Violation of workers’ rights
Download the ITUC Global Rights Index Infographic – Ten worst countries in the world for working people

Bangladesh Laundry Workers Strike, Win Wage Boost

Bangladesh Laundry Workers Strike, Win Wage Boost

Laundry workers affiliated with the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) at the Jeans Express Ltd. Washing Division factory in Chittagong, Bangladesh, successfully negotiated a collective bargaining agreement following a two-day strike in May.

As a result of the strike, the 70 laundry workers won a 6 percent wage increase, improvements in leave, access to purified water, a union office, a prayer space and an area where workers can eat meals. The union and management also committed to a dispute resolution process.

Law Makes Legal Strikes Nearly Impossible

The strike action—which, as a legal strike, is extremely rare due to onerous legal requirements—prompted management to bargain a contract with the union.

The union had sought to begin the collective bargaining process in December 2015, but management refused to meet with the union. As per Bangladesh labor law, the union filed complaints with the government, which made several attempts at conciliation without success. On May 2, all but one union member who voted in a secret ballot election overseen by the government’s Joint Director of Labor (JDL) voted in favor of a strike.

“This has been a great success following a six-month-long struggle,” says BIGUF Organizing Secretary Chandon Kumar Dey. “Now we must now ensure implementation of the agreement and help the union build a constructive relationship with the management.”

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