Harassment at work – social partners reach agreement

Employers and trade union representatives have rubber-stamped an agreement to fight harassment and violence in the workplace in what constitutes the lastest achievement of the ‘European Social Dialogue’ launched by former Commission President Jacques Delors some 20 years ago.

framework agreement on harassment and violence at work was officially signed on 26 April 2007 in Brussels in the presence of social partners and Vladimir Špidla, the commissioner in charge of employment and social affairs.

The agreement was struck after ten months of negotiations between representatives of Business Europe (employers), UEAPME (small enterprises), CEEP (public-sector companies) and ETUC (trade unions). Negotiations began in January 2005 along EU Treaty rules requiring the Commission to consult social partners before presenting social legislation.

Member organisations at national level have committed to implement the agreement’s provisions before April 2010, “in accordance with procedures and practices specific to management and labour in their country”.

The text enshrines the signatories’ “duty to protect workers against harassment and violence in the workplace”, be it physical, psychological or sexual. It requires companies, large and small, to have a clear statement saying that harassment and violence are not tolerated and that procedures apply in cases of problems.

Harassment is defined as occurring “when one or more worker or manager are repeatedly and deliberately abused, threatened and/or humiliated in circumstances relating to work”. Violence is when workers or managers “are assaulted” at work.

From “one-off incidents” to “more systematic patterns of behaviour”, the agreement recognises harassment ranging “from minor cases of disrespect to more serious acts, including criminal offences which require the intervention of public authorities”.

"The successful conclusion of this negotiation is a major achievement for the European social dialogue work programme 2006-2008," said ETUC, the European Trade Union Confederation.

As part of the European Social Dialogue, the Commission is required to consult employers and trade union organisations prior to presenting any social legislation. If social partners can come to an agreement, it is then ratified by the EU Council of Ministers. If not, the Commission can go ahead and present its proposal.

Previous agreements ratified by the Council and now part of EU law include: parental leave (1996), part-time work (1997) and fixed-term contracts (1999). The other four are voluntary agreements which are not enshrined in EU law. They relate to: telework (2002), work-related stress (2004), lifelong learning (2002) and gender equality (2005).

  • 10 April 2010: Deadline for social partners at national level to implement the agreement.

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