UK government takes first step to ratify ILO treaty on workplace violence
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The UK is to ratify the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) convention on workplace violence and harassment, the government has announced today.

In a written statement to MPs, Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey said ratifying the convention “is the right course of action” and hoped the move reassures parliament of “the government’s commitment to tackling violence and harassment in the world of work”.

Adopted in 2019 after two years of negotiations, the convention recognises the right of everyone to work free from violence and harassment, and provides a common framework for action.

The convention also provides the first internationally accepted definition of violence and harassment in the world of work.

Under the treaty, “violence and harassment” refers to a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual, or economic harm, including gender-based violence and harassment.

The convention defines “gender-based violence and harassment” as violence and harassment directed at persons because of their sex or gender, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment.

The treaty sets minimum obligations for governments, including ensuring comprehensive national laws against workplace harassment and violence, as well as prevention measures, enforcement, and access to remedies for victims, such as complaint systems, whistleblower protections, and compensation.

The convention went into legal effect on 25 June 2021. To date, Argentina, Ecuador, Fiji, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, Namibia, Somalia, and Uruguay have ratified the treaty.

Before ratification can be confirmed in the UK, the government must lay the convention’s text in the form of a command paper in both houses of parliament together with an explanatory memorandum propose the treaty be ratified.

If no objections are raised in the next 21 parliamentary sitting days, the government will draw up the UK’s instrument of ratification, with the convention coming into force 12 months after the instrument is deposited with the ILO.

“These measures will not only strengthen protections for those affected by harassment at work but will also motivate employers to make improvements to workplace practices and culture,” said Coffey.

“The government will not waver in our defence of the rights of women and girls to live free from violence and abuse. The UK will continue to protect and promote the safety and rights of women and girls overseas, and call for all member states to remain committed to international conventions, including by ratifying the [convention] as a means of promoting its aims globally.”

Commenting on the news, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said ratifying the convention was a welcome statement of intent by the government but that enforcement was key.

“No matter who you are, or the job you do, you should be safe from violence and harassment at work. But each year thousands of UK workers are assaulted, abused, and harassed while trying to do their job. And we have even seen a rise in violence and abuse towards key workers in the pandemic,” she said.

“Unions, government, and industry must now work together on the laws and workplace policies needed to prevent abuse and punish those responsible. This should include recognising that not every worker faces the same risks. Insecure workers, frontline staff, women, Black workers, and those with other protected characteristics face greater risks that must be addressed.”

In July, the government announced it will introduce a new duty on employers to take preventative steps to safeguard employees from sexual harassment by co-workers, clients, or customers.