2 December, 2021With women mineworkers raped and murdered underground, energy workers killed during night shifts whilst others are attacked and scarred for life with acid while at work, the South African workplace is a crime scene for gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH).
Confronted by this horror, trade unions continue to fight against GBVH and the campaign for the ratification of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 190 which seeks to eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work and the adoption of Recommendation 206, are part of sustained actions to stop GBVH and create safer workplaces.
On 29 November, the South African government submitted its documents to the ILO as part of the ratification process. The documents were submitted at a meeting in Johannesburg with the ILO, the department of employment and labour, and trade unions that are part of the National Economic Development and Labour Council – the country’s social dialogue platform. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) represented unions.
When Convention 190 is ratified, it will complement national legislation that includes the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Amendment Bills as well as the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Bill) that have been passed by parliament and will become law once signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Further, the country has a national strategic plan aimed at ending GBVH.
Unions are conducting awareness campaigns against GVBH and forming strategic alliances with civil society organizations that are targeting men, who have been identified by research as the main perpetrators of GBVH and domestic violence. Unions say GBVH is worsened by gender stereotypes found in harmful social and cultural practices, poverty, inequality, high unemployment, and weak law enforcement which promotes impunity.
Lydia Nkopane, from the National Union of Mineworkers, who is also the chairperson of the IndustriALL Sub Saharan Africa women’s committee says:
“We are optimistic that the domestication of Convention 190 into South African law will help to stop the scourge of GBVH especially in the mining and other male dominated industrial sectors where the abuses are rampant. Women should enjoy freedoms to go to work, come back to their families and live without fear of sexual harassment, rape, physical beatings, and even death perpetrated by their workmates or partners.”
Christine Olivier, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, says:
“The ratification of C190 provides a valuable tool to address risk factors and prevent GBVH. The development of workplace policies will empower and protect workers by removing barriers to the implementation of existing laws. However, South African unions must remain vigilant to ensure the implementation of C190 and must conduct awareness campaigns for workers to understand the convention.”
According to reports incidences of GBVH and domestic violence increased during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown prompting the government to respond through laws and other policies. The government national command centre on gender-based violence recorded 120,000 cases in the first three weeks of the lockdown in 2020.