ETUC report Safe at Home, Safe at Work

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This blog post by Dr Jane Pillinger is part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Dr Jane Pillinger is a gender expert and author of the report ‘Safe at Home, Safe at Work: Trade union strategies to prevent, manage and eliminate workplace harassment and violence against women’. She has carried out research and policy advice on the issue of violence against women at work for the EU, ILO and European and global union federations. Recent work includes co-authoring a resource kit on ‘Gender Based Violence in Global Supply Chains’ for the ITC-ILO, advisory work with the Fair Wear Foundation on measures to tackle violence against women in the garment sector, and author of the report on Violence against women workers in transport for the European Transport Federation. She is currently writing a Guide to tackling violence against women at work for the ILO and UNWomen.

 The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) report ‘Safe at Home, Safe at Work: Trade union strategies to prevent, manage and eliminate workplace harassment and violence against women’ is based on 11 detailed country case studies (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and the UK) and European-level developments on gender-based violence and harassment at work, including domestic violence at work. The report has raised awareness amongst a wider audience of national and European policy makers about the need for the systematic inclusion of gender when dealing with violence and harassment at work. Gender-based violence and harassment is a form of discrimination that causes significant harm to women, whether it take place in the workplace, in public places, on public transport, in schools and colleges, or in the family. Trade unions have approached the issue in negotiations, collective bargaining, union awareness-raising, training and campaigns, and partnerships with women’s organisations working to end gender-based violence, and there are many good practices in the workplace that show the added value of trade unions actions, innovations and negotiations.

The report was prepared at time of rising violence and harassment against women at work, continued and widening gender inequalities at work, and a culture of sexism in the workplace. In part, this arises because of increasing levels of precarious work across Europe, but continues to exist because the workplace is closely connected to women’s wider roles that extend beyond it in the private domain of the home and family.

The spill-over of domestic violence at work is a new issue for trade union negotiations successfully carried out by unions in Spain, Denmark and to a lesser extent France and the UK. Because domestic violence can involve a wide range of abuses including emotional and financial abuse and ‘coercive control’, it can affect a woman’s capacity to get to work and to participate effectively and productively in the workplace. Trade unions are increasingly recognising the role of the workplace in preventing domestic violence, and the social and economic benefits that result from this. Workplace measures such as temporary paid leave, initial safety planning, changes in work location or parking spaces, and providing information about specialist domestic support organisations and protection orders in cases of stalking in the workplace, are some of the ways in which trade union representatives have supported victims and negotiated measures for their protection and temporary leave from work, particularly when they leave a violent partner. They enable victims to stay in their jobs and retain their financial independence, while also ensuring that workers are safe at work.

Despite many challenges, including working within patriarchal structures and cultures, the report documents the many inspiring and innovative ways in which women and men in trade unions have campaigned against gender-based violence and brought the issue into workplace negotiations, safety and health programmes, and initiatives on wellbeing at work.

The report documents:

  • Over 80 collective bargaining agreements and union negotiated workplace policies, as well as union initiatives to raise awareness, train negotiators and campaign for an end sexual harassment perpetrated by colleagues, managers and third-parties (e.g. violence perpetrated by customers/clients against women workers in restaurants and bars, in health services and in transport).
  • Over 40 examples of collective bargaining agreements and union-negotiated workplace policies on tackling domestic violence at work, as well as awareness raising, training and campaigns carried out by unions, often in partnership with domestic violence organisations.

Despite many of these innovations, the problem seems to be worsening, pointing to the need for stronger legal measures to prevent sexual harassment and violence against women workers. The scale of the problem can be seen in a recent European survey showing shocking levels of harassment and violence against women transport workers across Europe. See: Violence Against Women workers in Transport:

The ETUC and many of its affiliates have long campaigned to end gender-based violence, and it has been a core objective of recent action programmes. One of the objectives of the ETUC’s Action Programme on Gender Equality, 2016-2019, is to contribute to eliminating gender-based violence and harassment at work and to continue to make the link between domestic violence and work-level protection.

The recent high-profile cases of sexual harassment in the media and in politics and in the #MeToo campaign have taken place at a time of significant national, European and international debates about gender-based violence at work. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has made a commitment to introduce a new international standard in 2018 on violence against women and men in the world at work. Trade unions are campaigning to ensure that there is a strong focus on gender-based violence in the new instrument, as seen in the highly visible campaign of the International Trade Union Confederation ‘Stop Gender Based Violence at Work’ []. The ratification by the EU and Member States of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) provides an important framework for an integrated approach to tackling violence against women. The EU ratification of the Convention will need an EU-level legal framework and strategy for implementation.

Conclusions and recommendations

Collective bargaining is one of the most important mechanisms for preventing and addressing violence against women at work, either as part of agreements that address violence against all workers, or in relation to sexual harassment at work, third-party violence or preventing domestic violence at work. However, the general trend towards reduced bargaining coverage and the decentralisation of bargaining puts limits on unions in some countries. A further issue is that, as violence and harassment have become a mainstream safety and health and wellbeing at work issue, there is a danger of it becoming de-gendered. Many unions therefore argue for effective gender mainstreaming strategies that will ensure that violence and harassment are addressed as a structural gender equality issue.

Having a strong legal framework is essential to enabling unions to negotiate concrete sectoral and workplace measures and many unions point to Spain as demonstrating good practice in this respect. The Organic Law 1/2004 on protection from domestic violence seeks to combat acts of violence that are considered discriminatory and includes measures to enable victims of domestic violence to remain in work. This has resulted in many collective bargaining agreements, harassment and violence protocols and gender-equality plans containing provisions on both sexual harassment at work and domestic violence at work.

Raising awareness, and training union negotiators and workplace representatives to have the skills and knowledge to integrate gender-based violence, including domestic violence, is a further priority. Workplace measures need to take account multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination so that the women most at risk of violence are protected. Having women in senior and decision-making roles, and as key negotiators in collective bargaining teams, is vital to ensuring that the issues are raised in negotiations. Some unions have used model agreements as a way of raising awareness and give negotiators appropriate language to be used in negotiations.

Ten things that the ETUC and ETUC affiliates can do to tackle gender-based violence and harassment at work.

  1. Prioritise sectoral and company-based social dialogue between unions and employers, jointly agreeing workplace policies, procedures and awareness raising actions amongst managers and workers.
  2. Ensure that women are in senior negotiating positions, as this has been shown to be critical to getting issues of gender-based violence and harassment onto bargaining agendas, particularly in male-dominated sectors.
  3. Produce guidance and model workplace policies, and train workplace representatives to negotiate agreements and policies to tackle violence and sexual harassment at work, third- party violence, and the prevention of domestic violence at work.
  4. Ensure that safety and health and wellbeing at work initiatives include a strong gender-based focus on the causes of and solutions to harassment and violence against women at work, and that they take into account gender inequalities and discrimination.
  5. Give information and support to workers experiencing gender-based violence and harassment and domestic violence.
  6. Work in partnership with NGOs and specialist violence against women organisations, for example in carrying out campaigns and union surveys to raise awareness about the extent and nature of gender-based violence at work.
  7. Encourage women and men in leadership, negotiating and decision-making positions to raise public awareness and act as champions for a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women.
  8. Highlight the economic and social case for tackling violence at work, including the business arguments such as improving workplace relations, enhancing wellbeing at work, retaining workers, reducing absence from work, and increasing motivation and productivity.
  9. Lobby for the inclusion of effective measures to address gender-based violence at work and domestic violence at work in governments’ national action plans on violence against women, in the implementation of the Istanbul Convention and the proposed ILO instrument on violence against women and men in the world of work.
  10. Implement measures to include and address gender-based violence and harassment in European sectoral social dialogue agreements and joint statements.