ILO adopts charter on harassment at work

ALTHOUGH HUNDREDS of representatives from unions, national governments and employers' organisations were in Geneva for last June's International Labour Conference, its landmark outcome has gone largely unnoticed in the UK.

International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 190 - concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work - was adopted with a huge majority; of 476 votes, 439 were for, seven against, and 30 abstained.

The convention represents a landmark as it provides a global definition of "violence and harassment" in the context of the "world of work", not just "employment" law.

The definition refers to "unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim (to), result in or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm" and includes "gender-based violence and (sexual) harassment".

The convention also not only covers "conventional" employees, but "personal working irrespective of their contractual status, persons in training, including interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, job seekers and job applicants, and individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer".

Although the Convention will not be legally binding on ILO member states until a year after being ratified (by just two nations), the process has begun. Uruguay claimed to be first, ratifying it in December. Namibia is also committed to bring it into the country's domestic legislation.

ILO experts specifically worked to ensure the convention reflected the "world of work" in the 2020s, covering those in the gig economy.

In the UK, stress management standards produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state that "unacceptable behaviours" include bullying, as well as harassment, as potential stressors.

Under UK law, another key factor in establishing whether a behaviour is unacceptable is how it is perceived by a victim.

Freelances have long anecdotally told of losing work - and being harmed economically - by someone "taking against them". ILO 190 represents significant progress towards both greater protection and recourse.

Additionally, organisations need not wait for national legislation to act. For example, following steady work over several years, the International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) signed an agreement with the global AccorInvest hotel group less a fortnight after ILO 190 was adopted.

In that, Accor says its zero-tolerance policy covers suppliers, contractors, franchise holders and guests as well as its staff. The organisational penalties could be severe, from dismissal to guests being banned as well as legal action.

The NUJ's health and safety committee has already started revising guidance information - available via the freelance office - to reflect ILO 190 and seeing how its wording can replace definitions of bullying and harassment currently in the union's rule book.