On January 30, 2023, Canada ratified the International Labour Organization Convention 190, called the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (C190). The Violence and Harassment Convention has been in development for several years and Canada has played a significant role in this development.
The Violence and Harassment Convention will come into force in Canada one year after its ratification date, on January 30, 2024. Bader Law will continue to monitor Canada’s implementation of the Violence and Harassment Convention and any new obligations for employers that may result from Canada’s adoption of it.
Workplace harassment and violence is a widespread issue in Canada. One 2022 research report, which included a survey of almost 5,000 Canadians, found that 65% of Canadian workers had experienced at least one behaviour of harassment and violence in the workplace, 44% had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment and violence, and 27% had experienced at least one incident of workplace online harassment.
The Violence and Harassment Convention is a global treaty that is intended to end violence and harassment in the workplace. It is the first-ever global treaty on this issue, acknowledging a universal right to freedom from workplace harassment and violence. As the name suggests, it provides a framework for signatory states to prohibit, prevent, and address workplace violence and harassment. Further, it calls on signatory states to address these issues in law and through collective bargaining.
The Violence and Harassment Convention is also accompanied by another document called Recommendation 206, which includes implementation guidelines for the Convention, including setting out the roles of government, workers, unions, and employers.
In ratifying the Violence and Harassment Convention, Canada has stated that it aims to integrate previously fragmented regulation on these issues, which have been treated as equality issues, equity issues, or occupational health and safety issues. The Violence and Harassment Convention also recognizes that women and other vulnerable groups are disproportionately impacted by violence and harassment in the workplace. Canadian statistics indicate that 25% of Canadian women and 17% of Canadian men have experienced workplace sexual harassment in the year before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Violence and Harassment Convention will apply across all provinces and territories in Canada and to all violence and harassment occurring at, linked with, or arising out of work, which would include:
- violence or harassment in a place of work, including public or private spaces;
- violence or harassment in places where a worker is paid, takes a rest break or a meal, or uses sanitary, washing, or changing facilities;
- violence or harassment during work-related travel;
- violence or harassment through work-related communications;
- violence or harassment in employer-provided accommodations; and
- violence or harassment when commuting.
Each signatory to the Violence and Harassment Convention is obligated to adopt laws and regulations targeting various key issues, including:
- Implement an inclusive, integrated, and gender-responsive approach to prevent and eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work.
- Ensure the right to equality and non-discrimination in employment and occupation, including for women workers and workers and other persons belonging to one or more vulnerable groups.
- Define and prohibit violence and harassment in work, including gender-based violence and harassment.
- Require employers to take steps to prevent violence and harassment at work.
The Violence and Harassment Convention does not change any laws in Canada immediately. Canada, as well as each province and territory, must put in place laws, regulations, and policies to implement the Convention within domestic law.
Article 12 of the Convention sets out that the Convention is intended to be applied through national laws and regulations, as well as through collective agreements or other measures. This could include amendments to existing laws such as occupational health and safety legislation or developing specific legislation or regulation.
Given that the Violence and Harassment Convention will come into force in Canada on January 20, 2024, Canada may take measures to implement the Convention over the next year, though these plans have not yet been made clear. There are a variety of measures that the Convention itself mentions, such as:
- laws prohibiting violence and harassment;
- strengthening monitoring and enforcement including inspection and investigation;
- ensuring access to remedies and support for victims of workplace violence and harassment; and
- developing training, education, and guidance.
Recommendation 206 also provides additional guidance on how Canada may choose to implement the Convention, including:
- promoting the recognition of the right to collective bargaining as a way to prevent and address workplace violence and harassment, and support such collective bargaining;
- adopting measures for sectors that are at particular risk of exposure to workplace violence and harassment such as work that takes place at night, health, isolated workers, social services, emergency services, domestic services, transport, education, and entertainment;
- legislative measures to protect migrant workers; and
- ensuring access to compensation for victims of workplace harassment and violence.
Article 9 calls on signatory countries to adopt laws requiring employers to take steps to prevent violence and harassment in their “world of work”, which should include “so as far as reasonably practicable” the following:
- require workplace policies on violence and harassment;
- take into account violence and harassment and psychosocial risks in managing occupational health and safety;
- identify and assess the risks of violence and harassment and take measures to prevent and control these risks; and
- provide workers with information and training on the identified risks and associated prevention and protection measures.
It is expected that workplace policies and the identification of workplace risks would be developed in consultation with workers and their representative, such as a union.
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