Understanding the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment (No. 190)

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the international body that prescribes best practices in labour law. It is the United Nations body that specialises in setting out basic principles and rights at work. It is with this mandate that the ILO produced the Convention on Violence and Harassment (No. 190). Zimbabwe is a party to the International Labour Organisation. This means that it generally subscribes to the international standards set by the ILO.

What is the purpose of the Convention?

The ILO Convention (No. 190) is significant in that for the first-time violence and harassment in the world of work are covered in international labour standards. The Preamble of the Convention No.190 clearly sets and communicates its intention and purpose. The Preamble is very detailed and recognises, among other things, the right of everyone to a workplace that is free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence. It also recognises that violence in the workplace can be a violation of human rights and that it can be a threat to equal opportunities between men and women, that it is unacceptable and opposed to decent work. The Preamble also acknowledges that gender-based violence and harassment unequally affects women and girls. Addressing such violence and harassment is deemed to require approaches that consider the underlying stereotypes and discrimination that exists in the world of work. It is also noted, in the Preamble, that violence that occurs in the domestic sphere can affect employment, productivity and health safety. In this regard, the government, employers, and national workers’ organisations are tasked to recognise, respond and address the impacts of domestic violence.

What kind of acts are defined as ‘violence and harassment’ in the workplace?

In the ILO Convention (No. 190), ‘violence and harassment’ in the workplace refer to a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices or threats that aim at or result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual, or economic harm. These behaviours, practices and/or threats may be a single isolated incident or repeated occurrence.  Such violence and harassment include gender-based violence which is violence directed towards at a person because of their sex or gender, or that unequally affects persons of a particular sex or gender.


Which spaces are regarded as the ‘workplace’ under the Convention?

ILO Convention (No. 190) applies to all acts of violence and harassment that occur in the course of work, linked with work or arising out of work. The workplace, therefore, includes a public or private space; a place where a worker is paid, takes a break or a meal, or uses sanitary, washing and changing facilities; work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities; work-related communication; and accommodation provided by the employer.

Who gets protection under the Convention?

The scope of the Convention is broad in that its provisions apply to workers and other persons in the world of work. Contextually, this includes employees who are defined as such under the national labour laws, as well as all persons who are working despite the conditions of their contracts. Such a wide scope means that the Convention covers interns and apprentices, volunteers, jobseekers, job applicants and managers, supervisors and all those who have authority over others in a workplace.

What are some of the duties of the State under the ILO Convention (No. 190)?

Each State that signs and ratifies or approves the ILO Convention (No. 190) has a duty to respect, promote and protect every individual’s right to a workplace that is free from violence and harassment. This includes, but is not limited to, taking appropriate steps to prohibit violence and harassment in national labour laws; putting in place or enforcing policies that address violence and sexual harassment in the workplace; adopting strategies that are aimed at implementing measures that prevent and end violence and harassment in the workplace; and ensuring that survivors of violence and harassment in the workplace have adequate remedies and support.

When does the Convention start to operate or come into force?

The Convention only comes into force twelve months after two member States have ratified or approved of it. This means that it will start to operate as a binding international treaty on the 25th of July 2020 because it has already been approved by two member States, the first of such approval having been done on the 25th of June 2020.

In conclusion, before Zimbabwe is bound by instruments such as the ILO Convention (No. 190) such treaty needs to be signed and later approved by Parliament and, additionally, to be incorporated into national labour laws. The legislature is, therefore, encouraged to approve the ILO Convention (No. 190) and subsequently to have it incorporated into the national laws for the promotion and protection of the right to fair labour standards.

By Geraldine Kabaya


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