Social partner sign agreement to combat harassment and violence at work

In late April 2007, the social partners signed a new framework agreement to combat harassment and violence at work. The agreement represents the sixth framework agreement signed by the social partners since the beginning of European social dialogue 20 years ago. It sets out the measures the social partners have agreed to in their joint aim to eliminate harassment and violence in the workplace.

On 26 April 2007, the new Framework agreement on harassment and violence at work (553Kb PDF) was signed by the general secretaries of the European social partner organisations: the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC); the Confederation of European Business (BusinessEurope); the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME); and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP). This is the sixth framework agreement to be signed by the social partners since the beginning of European social dialogue 20 years ago. It is also the third voluntary and autonomous agreement to be concluded, following the agreements on telework (107Kb PDF) in 2002 (EU0611029I) and work-related stress (77.4Kb) in 2004.

Negotiations on the agreement began in the wake of an official European Commission consultation of the social partners in January 2005, as required by the EC Treaty prior to presenting social legislation. The successful completion of the agreement came about after 10 months of negotiations. The decision-making bodies of the European social partner organisations approved the final text of the agreement in December 2006. It will now be the task of the national social partners in all EU Member States to adopt the agreement within a three-year period, according to their own procedures and practices.

Statement by social partners

In a joint press release (94Kb PDF) issued on the same day the agreement was signed, the social partners unequivocally condemn harassment and violence ‘in all their forms’ and recognise that harassment and violence can potentially affect any workplace and any worker, ‘even if in practice some groups and sectors can be more at risk’. The parties also describe the successful conclusion of their negotiations as a major achievement for the European Social Dialogue Work Programme 2006–2008.

With the signature of the agreement, the parties aim to increase awareness and understanding on the issues of harassment and violence at work, and to provide employers and employees with an action-oriented framework to identify and manage problems of this kind. The fundamental objective of the agreement is to prevent, identify and manage problems related to harassment and violence at the workplace.

Aims of agreement

Under the terms of the agreement, the social partners are required to ensure the following objectives:

  • enterprises should have a clear statement outlining that harassment and violence at the workplace will not be tolerated and specifying the procedure to be followed if problems arise;
  • responsibility for determining, reviewing and monitoring the appropriate measures rests with the employer, in consultation with workers and/or their representatives;
  • provisions are put in place to deal with cases of violence by third parties, where appropriate.

Content of agreement

The agreement acknowledges that harassment and violence can take many different forms, such as:

  • physical, psychological and/or sexual harassment;
  • one-off incidents or more systematic patterns of behaviour;
  • among colleagues, between superiors and subordinates or even by third parties such as clients, customers, patients or students;
  • a range of actions, from minor cases of disrespect to more serious acts of harassment or violence, including criminal offences.

Furthermore, the agreement suggests that suitable procedures should be put in place which include both informal and formal stages to be followed in dealing with cases of harassment and violence. Such procedures should provide for the following measures:

  • proceeding in private to protect the dignity of all parties involved;
  • limiting information to the parties to the proceedings only;
  • ensuring that complaints are investigated without undue delay;
  • guaranteeing all parties the right to an impartial hearing and fair treatment;
  • confirming that complaints are backed up by detailed information;
  • making it clear that false accusations will not be tolerated;
  • offering external assistance if necessary.

The agreement comes in the context of increasing recognition of the psychological health problems at work that are caused or worsened by harassment and violence, including bullying. According to the Fourth European Working Conditions Survey, carried out by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in 2005 and published in 2007, one in 20 workers had been exposed to bullying and/or harassment in the workplace during the previous 12-month period. A similar proportion had reported being the victim of violence, although such action was more likely to have been perpetrated by people outside the workplace, such as customers or clients, than by colleagues. Some groups of workers are considered to be at greater risk than others, in particular women, white-collar workers and those working in large companies.

In a press release issued on 26 April 2007, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimír Špidla, described the agreement as an important step forward and believes it to be ‘further proof of the success of social dialogue in producing concrete results for workers and employers in Europe’.

Sonia McKay, Working Lives Research Institute

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