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Union support for women at work: report

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ETUC, TUC, sexual harassment at work, domestic abuse, unions, recommendationsUK unions have begun to address domestic violence at work.

A new report was released recently that has been produced as part of the ‘Safe at Home, Safe at Work’ Project by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

Researchers have drawn together evidence collected from interviews carried out as part of 11 detailed country case studies of European-level developments on gender-based violence and harassment at work, including domestic violence at work.

Gender-based violence and harassment is a form of discrimination that causes significant harm to women, whether it take place in the workplace, in public places, on public transport, in schools and colleges, or in the family.

This report, ‘Safe at Home Safe at Work‘, shows how trade unions and/or social partners have approached the issue in negotiations, collective bargaining, union awareness-raising, training and campaigns, and partnerships with women’s organisations working to end gender-based violence.

The report points to good practices in the workplace and shows the added value of trade unions actions, innovations and negotiations to support victims and create workplaces free from violence and harassment.

It says that a TUC survey on sexual harassment at work in Great Britain found that more than half of all women and nearly two-thirds of women aged 18 to 24 years said they had experienced sexual harassment at work.

In a 2016 survey of women members of the UK University and College Union, on sexual harassment in the university/college sector, 54 per cent reported a personal experience of some form of sexual harassment at work.

And it outlines 10 things that unions can do to tackle harassment and violence against women work:

1 – Prioritise social dialogue between employers and unions, in jointly agreeing policies, procedures and awareness raising amongst managers and workers.

2 – Ensure that women are in senior negotiating positions, as this has been shown to be critical to getting issues of violence against women and sexual harassment onto bargaining agendas, particularly in male dominated sectors.

3 – Produce guidance, model workplace policies and train workplace representatives to negotiate agreements and policies to tackle violence and sexual harassment at work and the prevention of domestic violence at work.

4 – Ensure that safety and health and wellbeing at work initiatives include a strong focus on the causes of and solutions to harassment and violence against women work, by taking into account gender inequalities and discrimination.

5 – Give information and support to workers experiencing sexual harassment and domestic violence.

6 – Work in partnership with NGOs and specialist violence against women organisations, for example, in carry out carrying out campaigns and union surveys to raise awareness about the extent and nature of violence against women at work.

7 – Encourage male trade union leaders, negotiators and men to publicly raise awareness and champion a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women.

8 – Highlight the economic and social case for tackling violence at work, including the business arguments that tackling violence against women can help to improve workplace relations, enhance wellbeing at work, retain workers, reduce absence from work, increase motivation and productivity.

9 – Lobby for the inclusion of measures to address sexual harassment and violence at work and domestic violence at work in government national actions plans on violence against women.

10 – Training and awareness raising for union representatives, leaders and supervisors.

Domestic violence is a relatively new trade union and bargaining issue. However, some unions are negotiating agreements and workplace policies to enable victims of domestic violence to remain in work.

Evidence shows that domestic violence often involves significant levels of coercive control, resulting in victims having to take sick leave or leave their jobs.

Measures such as temporary paid leave, counselling, support, initial safety planning, changes in work location or parking spaces, and providing information about specialist domestic support organisations and protection orders in cases of stalking in the workplace, are some of the ways that trade union representatives have supported victims and negotiated measures for their protection and temporary leave, particularly when they leave a violent partner.

UK unions have begun to address domestic violence at work through awareness raising and negotiation of workplace policies, using model domestic violence clauses and guidance drawn up by the TUC and individual unions.

The public service union, UNISON, has managed to agree workplace policies in the health and local government sectors, and the union has supported negotiators through training, a guidance document and a model clause on domestic violence at work for the public sector.

The UNISON guidance ‘Domestic violence and abuse: a trade union issue’ sets what workplace representatives can do to prevent domestic violence at work and negotiate workplace policies.

The shop workers’ union, USDAW, issued guidance in 2016 for trade union reps on ‘Domestic Violence and Abuse’, which also included violence in same-sex relationships; a shorter leaflet sets out help and support for women who might be facing domestic abuse.

And women’s sections of trade unions have run campaigns calling for zero tolerance on violence against women.

Examples include information campaigns and a reporting line to encourage people to report cases of bullying and harassment by the actor’s and entertainment union Equity.

The union Unite has run a campaign on violence in the hotel sector, where many migrant women workers are at risk of violence and harassment.

The teacher’s union NASUWT has run several campaigns on girls’ access to education free from violence and sexual abuse.

The union of journalists NUJ has run campaigns on sexism and the representation of women and girls in the media.

USDAW regularly runs women’s campaigns, including a recent campaign on women’s safe journeys to work.

And a poster ‘We won’t look the other way’ about domestic violence in the workplace has been drawn up and widely disseminated by UNISON for display in workplaces.

To read the full country report for the UK click here.

To read the full ETUC report, click here.

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