Chidi King is equality director at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and says that the time to call for a convention on gender-based violence in the workplace is now.
Why do we need an international labour standard on gender-based violence?
I think that #MeToo and #TimesUp show exactly why we need the ILO to be working on an international legal baseline to deal with violence and harassment, and particularly gender based violence, in the world of work.
The social media outpouring shows that no country has managed to tackle this in a satisfactory way, even in countries where laws might be in place. If it took this long for women working on film sets or in newsrooms to speak up, imagine how much more difficult it must be for domestic workers working behind closed doors or the machinist working in garment industry to speak up.
I think it is critical that we adopt an instrument that tells the world that gender based violence is unacceptable and not part of the job. It is against decent work and we need to act.
We can’t just have a generic instrument that advises, “if you take these measures” without looking at the fact that women and men do not experience the world of work in the same way. If we really want to tackle this issue with the seriousness and urgency that it needs to break the circle of silence and violence, we need the full force of the rule of law. In ILO terms this means a convention supplemented by a recommendation.
Why is this a union issue?
It goes to the heart of what we do as unions. Our mission is to achieve decent work and dignity in the workplace, and the issue of violence and harassment really goes to the heart of that.
What can our unions do?
Scale up organizing activities around gender based violence, even before the issue is discussed at the International Labour Conference.
We also need to talk to our governments and employers about why this is so important. Thanks to the public debate, this is no longer a hidden issue as it might have been before. So we need to seize that momentum and make sure that governments are aware that women everywhere are saying that enough is enough. It is time for action! Almost everything that has come to light around #metoo and #timesup has involved the world of work.
Indeed, working together with employers is important. We know that employers are concerned with this issue, and they are not all necessarily against an ILO convention supplemented by a recommendation. Binding instruments are sometimes less attractive to employers, but we know that in relation to this issue, there is support from some employers. We are encouraging those employer who might support our positions to speak up and to showcase their best practice.
The next two years will be important. The second discussion at the ILC will probably take place in 2019, which is also the ILO’s centenary. It would be great if in 2019 employers, workers and governments can adopt a strong set of instruments that outlaw gender-based violence and show that after 100 years of the ILO, this is how social dialogue makes decent workplaces.