Head of UN labour agency backs anti-harassment measures

Geneva (AFP) –


The head of the International Labour Organization on Monday urged the agency to approve new rules to stop violence and harassment in the workplace, despite some concerns from employer representatives.

ILO director general Guy Ryder made the call as he opened a congress marking the United Nations labour body's 100th anniversary.

Following the #MeToo movement, ILO delegates are negotiating a convention with enhanced worker protection that would, once ratified by member-states, be legally binding.

"By adopting new international labour standards to stop violence and harassment at work, this conference will ... strike a blow against abuse which should offend the basic standards of decency of each and every one of us," Ryder told the congress.

"We must do this," he added.

The ILO's work is often complicated by its tripartite structure that includes government officials, union leaders and private sector employer representatives.

It is a unique set-up among UN agencies, which normally offer formal roles only to member-states.

According to Ryder, employers have voiced concern about the convention on harassment, especially whether an enterprise should be responsible for abuses that happen away from the workplace.

A provisional draft of the resolution refers to abuses that occur during "work-related trips or travel, training, events or social activities".

The provisional text also defines "violence and harassment" as "a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices... that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm".

- 'Unacceptable mischievousness' -

Employers want specific offences to be more precisely defined, according to Ryder.

The head of the employers' delegation to the ILO congress, Mthunzi Mdwaba, said his camp supported a binding convention but warned that employers would not tolerate negotiations where their concerns were disregarded.

He accused some, unnamed ILO delegates of "unacceptable mischievousness" and said employers were frustrated that they were not being treated as equal partners within the organisation.

The ILO is the only agency set up under the League of Nations following World War I that survived the rise of fascism in Europe and the outbreak of World War II.

Dozens of heads of state and government are due to address the congress that runs through June 21, including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.