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July 24, 2019

Convention 190

Opinion

July 24, 2019

On June 21, 2019, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted Convention 190, concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work.

It is for the first time that violence and harassment in the world of work are covered in new international labour standards, adopted at the Centenary International Labour Conference, which is now open for ratification by ILO member states. The term ‘world of work’ has been used for workplaces in organizations around the world.

With the recent global outcry against violence and harassment, this could not be more timely or relevant. The convention provides a clear framework for action and an opportunity to shape a future of work based on dignity and respect, free from violence and harassment.

The right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment has never before been clearly articulated in an international treaty. It also recognizes that such behaviour can constitute a human rights violation or abuse.

What kind of acts come under the definition of “violence and harassment”? Definitions vary and lines are often blurred. For example, sexual harassment is often classified as a form of gender-based violence. This is why the conference took a pragmatic approach defining violence and harassment as “a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm”. This potentially covers physical abuse, verbal abuse, bullying and mobbing, sexual harassment, threats and stalking, among other things. The convention focuses on inclusivity – meaning that everyone who works is protected, irrespective of contractual status, including interns, volunteers, job applicants, and persons exercising the authority of an employer. It applies to the public and private sectors, the formal and informal economy, urban and rural areas.

Some groups and workers in certain sectors, occupations and work arrangements are acknowledged to be especially vulnerable to violence and harassment; for example in health, transport, education and domestic work, or working at night or in isolated areas. The sectors specific to each country will be identified through tripartite consultation. Gender- based violence and harassment is specifically highlighted and the approach also takes into account third parties like clients, customers, service providers and patients. They can be victims as well as perpetrators.

The impact of domestic violence on the world of work is also included. This is a significant step in bringing domestic violence out of the shadows. Changing attitudes is never easy but is essential if violence and harassment is to be eliminated from the world of work. The underlying causes need to be tackled, including multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, gender stereotypes and unequal gender-based power relations.

With the increase in number of incidents of sexual harassment, Pakistan should also ratify this convention. By doing so the government may bring about appropriate amendments to the already promulgated Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010. This will enlarge the scope of the act and make it more powerful.

The investigation and handling of sexual harassment complaints is different from those of other misconducts. In the latter cases, it is mandatory to confront the accused with all the relevant evidence and providing them with the opportunity of cross examining the prosecution witnesses, whether male or female, produced in the enquiry.

In cases of sexual harassment, women are reluctant or fearful to lodge written or even oral complaints for various reasons. These may include the fear of reprisals, reaction from family, fear of the offender, embarrassment before friends etc. They have to be persuaded by senior female staff of their department or the human resource department to cooperate in the investigation so that the accused are punished if found guilty. Article 10 of Convention 190 contains a provision for protection against victimization of or retaliation against complainants, victims, witnesses and whistle-blowers.

Listening to the complainant and probing the incident must be confined to women. Based on the facts so gathered and circumstantial evidence, if any, the accused is separately confronted by men. In this process factors such as the past record and behaviour of both the complainant and the accused are checked besides looking at any other evidence related to the incidence or required for arriving at a decision. The accused is given the benefit of any mitigating circumstances.

The two sets of information so collected are then reviewed by a joint committee of management to reach a consensus finding ensuring that justice is done. Like cases of theft, fraud and dishonesty, there is zero tolerance in cases of sexual harassment in progressive organizations. Ratification and then incorporation of the provisions of Convention 190 will strengthen our own law of 2010.

The writer is an industrial relations professional.

Email: [email protected]

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