Violence and harassment at work from third parties is a social dialogue matter

Third-Party Violence Conference Madrid November 2022

Project final conference: "The role of social partners in preventing third-party violence & harassment at work" Friday 25 November 2022, Madrid, Spain

(15 December 2022) Incidences of third-party violence at work not only continue to remain high but are also on the increase across Europe, particularly in prison services, hospitals and local public transport sector.

EU-OSHA defines third-party violence as “physical violence, verbal aggression or the threat of physical violence where the aggressor is not a work colleague.” Nurses, prison officers, bus drivers, front line workers in local and regional governments etc are regularly exposed to abuse and harassment, most of which goes unreported. Such acts of aggression are often normalised as ‘being part of the job’ but significantly affect the workers’ health outcomes.

To address this issue, EPSU coordinated a two year project on the role of social partners in preventing third-party violence and harassment along with eight other sectoral trade unions and employer organisations. The project, funded by the European Commission, aimed to assess the scale and impact of external violence and harassment in the workplace; legislative and policy responses; and the extent to which the multisectoral Guidelines adopted in 2010 remain relevant.

On 25 November 25 2022, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the project’s final conference was held in Madrid. Project partners put forward an action plan based on insights from six theme-based webinars, project research findings and new data from Eurofound. Ninety conference delegates adopted the action plan which reaffirms a zero-tolerance policy toward violence and harassment at work and concludes that the 2010 Guidelines must be updated.

Project researcher Dr Jane Pillinger argued 2010 Multi-sectoral Guidelines to tackle Third-Party Violence and Harassment related to Work had been effective in raising awareness but they need to be updated. A common understanding must be developed of gendered violence, based on ILO Convention 190, as well as new forms of cyber-violence which disproportionately affect young women. The impact of insufficient staffing levels is also a key risk factor which needs to be addressed. Her report contains useful examples of how social partners tackle the matter, which indicates that violence at work is not inevitable.

Eurofound confirmed that workers’ exposure to violence can be frequent in public services and that it closely relates to high job demands, lack of job resources as well as lack of support from management or, to a lesser extent, from colleagues.

During the conference panel Bianca Faragau, Policy Officer, DG Justice, European Commission presented the draft directive to tackle gender-based violence including domestic violence, currently being discussed in Parliament and Council. The unions underlined the absence of a workplace approach and hope that the Parliament will introduce amendments to fill in the gap.

Gloria Mills, President, ETUC Women’s Committee pointed out the need for a stronger focus on domestic violence in the 2010 Guidelines. Lack of support for victims of domestic abuse often means that they fall behind in the labour market. Workers should therefore have the right to exceptional leave on grounds of domestic violence as is the case in Ireland, Italy and Spain. To ensure a more integrated approach to both external and internal violence at work, Mills committed to promoting the proposal in the action plan to revise the cross-sector agreement on violence and harassment at work adopted in 2007.

Guillaume Affelat, Senior Policy Officer, SGI-Europe said that the 2007 cross-sector agreement had been implemented in a few countries. In Eastern Europe, social partners’ mutual understanding of the problem had yet to be developed. Affelat kept the door open to the possibility of reviewing the agreement. He added that psycho-social risks were part of the ongoing negotiations on the revision of the cross-sector agreement on telework.

Karin Brunzell, Fackforbundet ST, Sweden, emphasised the role of cultural and structural reforms alongside new legislation to tackle third party violence. Nadja Salson, Policy Officer, EPSU, recalled that a significant proportion of perpetrators have often themselves been victims of domestic violence, which is why it needs to be addressed in schools, hospitals and prisons. A comprehensive approach consisting of risk assessments; collective agreements; awareness campaigns; complaints mechanisms; support and compensation for survivors; and holding perpetrators accountable is required to break this cycle of violence. Jan Willem Goudriaan, General Secretary, EPSU pointed out the urgent need to address staff shortages in sectors such as healthcare or prisons. Understaffing often triggers frustration amongst patients and reduces the possibilities for rehabilitation activities, which can translate into violence directed towards staff.

Part of the discussion at the conference was dedicated to exchanging good practices. Spain was one of the first EU member states to ratify the ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment and to implement quick redressal mechanisms to deal with harassment at workplace. In Denmark, a tripartite agreement on sexual harassment was recently reached between the social partners and the government.

At the end of the conference, the project partners committed to submitting the action plan for adoption with their respective EU sectoral social dialogue committees in the first half of 2023.

For further reading

  • Project final conference: "The role of social partners in preventing third-party violence & harassment at work" Friday 25 November 2022, Madrid, Spain
  • Project final conference: "The role of social partners in preventing third-party violence & harassment at work" Friday 25 November 2022, Madrid, Spain
  • EPSU General Secretary speaking at Project final conference: "The role of social partners in preventing third-party violence & harassment at work" Friday 25 November 2022, Madrid, Spain