Social partners take action against third-party violence and harassment at work

Third Party Violence at work logo

(Brussels, 19 March 2024) An unprecedented number of European sectoral trade unions and employers launched negotiations on third-party violence and harassment at work on Tuesday, 19 March 2024, with the support of the European Commission.

A total of ten social partners are involved in the negotiations, including those responsible for health and hospitals; local, regional and central governments (including prisons); education; restaurants; and telecoms (employers only). Work in these sectors typically involves asocial working hours; working at night; dealing with people; and, in the case of healthcare and prisons, working with people in a vulnerable situation.

The negotiations come in response to growing reports of third-party violence and harassment at work (TPVH). Recent Eurofound data shows that 12.5% of workers in the EU experience some form of adverse social behaviour at work, with more women affected than men. The gender gap is particularly striking when it comes to unwanted sexual attention - women are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from unwanted sexual attention than men. The situation is even worse for young women (18–34 years) whose reports of unwanted sexual attention are three times higher than men of the same age, and 10 times higher than the oldest group of men (50+ years).

In some sectors, the situation is particularly acute, healthcare, fire-fighters, police officers, prison and security guards report 2–3 times higher levels of bullying, harassment and violence than the EU average. These workers are then more likely to experience burnout, anxiety or depression.

In healthcare, Eurofound shows that 23% of the EU health workers “experience[d] at least one form of negative social behaviour during the last 12 months of work”.The figures can be much higher in some countries. A poll carried out in the Netherlands found that more than 50% of healthcare professionals faced some form of aggression on at least a monthly basis in 2023. This ranged from swearing and shouting to spitting, death threats or physical violence. In the mental health sector, the figures are even higher - 67% of respondents had experienced aggression in 2023, more than previous years.

The negotiations will focus on the revision of the 2010 Guidelines on Third-Party Violence And Harassment, which most negotiating social partners signed up to. The Guidelines complement the Cross-Sectoral Agreement on Violence and Harassment agreed in 2007. More than a decade later, and in the face of the scale of increased abuse and recognition of the gender dimension of the problem, the Guidelines need an update to be more relevant to workers, management and social partners and to become more effective at national level.

Based on an EU-funded two-year project of research and discussions, one important obstacle to progress is that too many see it as part of the job with often too little support from management. In this context, working conditions, staffing levels, gender inequalities, undervalued jobs and quality and availability of public services are crucial to understand and respond to rising rates of TPVH.

The update will include the following areas:

  • gender-based violence in line with the ILO Convention 190 including domestic violence
  • digitalisation and cyberviolence
  • health and safety risks assessments, including staffing levels and workload
  • support,  sanction, compensation, redress

The multifaceted nature of violence which often occurs at the intersection of precarity, racism, sexism and homophobia will be a cross-cutting issue

Follow the social partners’ joint TPVH website for updates on the negotiations.

More information

  • The negotiating social partners are on the trade union side are EPSU (central government; local and regional government; health and hospitals), ETUCE (education), EFFAT (food and agriculture), and CESI (central government) and on the employers HOSPEEM (healthcare and hospitals), CEMR (local and regional government), EUPAE (central government), HOTREC (Horeca) and ETNO (telecoms). ETF and UITP for public urban transport will initially join as observers.
  • The negotiations follow a two-year EU funded project (2021-203) on the role of social partners in preventing third-party violence and harassment at work. The project consisted of research, meetings and a large conference which adopted a follow-up action plan in November 2022 which committed to updating the 2010 guidelines - see here for more information
  • Evidence from the project research reveals both a greater awareness of the effects and causes of TPVH and an increase in the levels and severity of TPVH, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly in hospitals, education, urban transport and prison services.
  • The Multi-Sectoral Guidelines define third-party violence and harassment (TPVH) as violence and harassment that occurs at the workplace, in the public space or in a private environment that is work related (telework for instance).
  • TPVH involves physical, psychological, verbal and/or sexual forms of violence. These can be one-off incidents or more systematic patterns of behaviour, by an individual or group, ranging from cases of disrespect to more serious threats, sexual violence and physical assault, and cyber-harassment.
  • The Guidelines have been overall poorly implemented at national level, yet they remain an important tool which deserves to be updated and be made more effective.