UAW International Women’s Day Statement in Support of an ILO Convention and Recommendation on Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work

In honor of International Women’s Day, the UAW, representing one million active and retired members is proud to support the call for the International Labor Organization (ILO) to issue a convention and recommendation to protect workers against sexual harassment and gender-based violence. While both women and men experience violence and harassment at work, unequal status and power result in women being at far greater risk: 35 percent of women – 818 million women globally – over the age of 15 have experienced sexual or physical violence.

The final text of the ILO standard will be debated and voted on at the 108th International Labor Conference, June 10-21, 2019.  This will be the culmination of more than two years work on the part of the ILO and its participating governments, labor organizations and employer representatives.  If passed, it would be the first international instrument that specifically addresses sexual harassment and gender-based violence.  Few existing standards define violence or harassment or provide guidance on how to address them. Only a few countries provide broad protection against violence and harassment in the world of work.

A strong legal framework that defines sexual harassment and protects victims can help workers and employers identify and stop gender-based violence.  A new ILO Convention on violence and harassment in the workplace would require governments to pursue an integrated approach to address violence and harassment in the world of work, delineating clear responsibilities for public and private employers, workers and their respective organizations, and governments, and joint strategies and collaboration. A government that ratifies an ILO Convention commits itself to applying the Convention in national law and practice and reporting its application at regular intervals. Complaints can be made against countries for violations of a Convention they have ratified.  Employers use ILO standards to establish international best practices. Labor unions use them to advocate for better protections at work.

The UAW has a proud history of working against sexual harassment. In 1978, the UAW joined a Michigan taskforce on sexual harassment.  According to Joyce Kornbluth, who co-chaired the  taskforce, “This was… the first time a bridge was built between feminists and unions… on the issue.” The taskforce held statewide hearings in which women stepped forward to tell their stories and describe their inability to combat their mistreatment.  In response, the UAW updated and strengthened its Administrative Letter on sexual discrimination, originally issued by Walter Reuther in 1951.  The updated letter, issued in 1981 and distributed to the entire membership, focused specifically on sexual harassment.  The letter was again updated in 1998.

In January 2019, the UAW submitted comments expressing opposition to the Department of Education’s plans to weaken protections against sexual assault and harassment. The UAW has developed and continues to update anti-sexual harassment programs that include a series of workshops for union leaders and staff.  In keeping with our proud history of working against sexual harassment and gender-based violence, we are proud to support a strong ILO Convention and recommendation to prevent these violations in the world of work.