While violence against women and girls is often portrayed in the media as something that happens behind closed doors (domestic violence) or down a dark street late at night (rape and sexual assault), the reality is that it also happens in workplaces. The ongoing stream of disclosures of sexual harassment from the entertainment industry and Westminster provide a small insight into the scale of the problem of sexual harassment across all sectors. TUC research last year found that over half of women had experienced sexual harassment at work.
It’s not just sexual harassment that has an impact on women’s working lives. Unions in Australia, Canada, and the UK have been making the case for several years that domestic violence is also a workplace issue. In the UK, in any one year, more than 20% of employed women take time off work because of domestic abuse, and 2% lose their jobs as a direct result of the abuse. TUC research in 2014 found that over one in ten (12.6%) of those who experienced domestic violence reported that the violence continued in the work place. In many cases this took the form of abusive emails and phone calls. For others it took the form of abusive partners turning up at the workplace. It’s not just the worker in the abusive relationship who can find that the violence follows them into work, TUC research found that violence can also have an impact on colleagues. One in nine workers who were experiencing domestic violence said that the abuse had caused tension or problems with co-workers. One quarter said that colleagues had been harmed or threatened by their abusive partner.
Trade unions across the globe have long campaigned for the issue of violence against women and girls, including sexual harassment, to be tackled as workplace issues. Union campaigns and collective bargaining have led to big wins. Unions in Australia negotiated 20 days’ paid leave in cases of domestic violence. Unions in Italy recently won improvements on a new statutory right for 3 months’ paid leave in cases of domestic violence.
As a result of trade union campaigning, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is working towards a convention – a legally binding international treaty - on ending violence against women and men in the world of work. This means members (including governments and employers) commit to applying the Convention to national law. They also commit to reviewing and reporting their progress against it. Throughout the campaign, trade unions have called for the Convention to have a specific focus on violence against women, recognising violence and harassment at work as more likely to affect women due to discrimination, unequal power relations and non-standard working conditions.
We urgently need to lobby our government and employers to support a robust Convention to tackle violence against women and girls in the world of work. To find out how you can add your voice to the many organisations supporting this convention, look no further than the ITUC website where you can find a campaign toolkit for trade unions, including explanations, timelines, lobbying tips, resources and sample letters to help dialogue between employers and governments