Violence against women and men in workplace is an abuse of power that affects the most marginalised workers. Women are disproportionately affected where unequal power relations, low pay, non-standard working conditions and other workplace abuses expose them to violence in the world of work.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), no worker, persons with employer duties, woman, man, trainee, job seeker or even a migrant should have to choose between their right to work and their physical, mental and sexual integrity and dignity.
After a majority vote by employer, government and worker representatives, the first-ever global convention to prevent and address violence and harassment at work, including gender-based violence and harassment, the ILO Convention 190 (C190) was adopted by the ILO at the International Labor Conference which was held in Geneva on 21st June 2019.
The C190 primarily aims to stop violence and harassment at work. It defines “violence and harassment” in the workplace as “a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment. The term ‘gender-based violence and harassment’ is defined as violence and harassment directed at persons because of their sex or gender or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, including sexual harassment.”
As part of key new provisions for advocacy by governments, employers, workers and allied organizations, ILO Convention 190:
⦁ Recognizes the need to address the root causes of gender-based violence, including gender inequality reinforced in stereotypes and norms, so as to effectively prevent and address it.
⦁ Includes sexual harassment, but recognizes there is a broader spectrum of violence and harassment based on sex and gender that must be addressed, and emphasizes GBVH is not about sex, but about power.
⦁ Acknowledges that how work is structured, particularly precarious work, fosters a culture in which gender-based violence and harassment and similar abuses are more likely to occur.
⦁ Addresses all forms of violence and harassment, such as those directed at personal characteristics like gender, race, ethnicity, immigration status, ability, sexual orientation and gender identity.
⦁ Emphasizes the right to a world of work free from violence and harassment.
⦁ Affirms that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect on the job.
⦁ Recognizes that violence and harassment at work are tools that reflect and reinforce existing power hierarchies.
Although two years have passed since the adoption of the ILO Convention 190, the Sri Lankan Government is yet to ratify this C190, leaving doubts to the working community of the country about their rights and welfare. With the Covid 19 epidemic, many incidents of rights of working people being violated and them being subjected to violence could be seen and many Organizations and Unions are of the view that if the Sri Lankan Government had adopted the 190 Convention earlier, it could have prevented them from being harassed and subjected to violence in this way.
Provisions and recommendations in this Convention 190 are important and much needed for the whole working community of the country, irrespective of their gender, education, occupation or the designation, said the Legal Officer to the Solidarity Center Sri Lanka, Attorney-at-law Mrs. Lilanthi Kumari.
“Many organizations and trade unions have been insisting the government implement the recommendations in the C190 to the existing labor laws, ever since they were adopted at the ILO Convention held in Geneva 2019. The government has begun to notice the importance of the recommendations in C190 even after two years, as a result of these collective efforts by the organizations.
“Attending an event held in parallel with the International Women’s Day, Labor Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said that the government has identified the importance of this ILO Convention 190 and that steps would be taken to implement those C190 recommendations to the existing law. This is something of huge significance to every working citizen of this country. We continue to work to make public and relevant authorities about the C190 and the necessity of it for people to work in a safe working environment where their rights are secured and with zero violence or harassment based on their gender, race, ethnicity, immigration status, ability, sexual orientation and gender identity,” she added.
So far the ILO Convention 190 has been submitted as a cabinet paper to the parliament, by the Minister of Labor, Nimal Siripala de Silva. The Minister has instructed the working trade unions to make them suitable for Sri Lanka, as all the provisions of this C 190 Convention are not applicable for Sri Lanka.
Our attempts to contact the Labor Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva were in vain but the Media Secretary to the Ministry of Labor, Upul Janaka Jayasinghe told with MediaLK that a special committee should be appointed in Parliament to look into this matter and that the Covid epidemic has hampered the process. He also said that the Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has already informed the Women Parliamentarians Caucus in Parliament of Sri Lanka that this committee in particular should have women representation.
However, when contacted, the Director General of the Department of Labor, Prabath Chandrakeerthi stated that his department has not received any advice so far over the implementation of C190 recommendations into the prevailing labor laws.