Briefing 8.1 - Social dialogue and working in partnership

3. Social dialogue on sexual harassment and gender-based violence 

 ILO Policy Brief for Employers’ and Workers’ Organizations

An ILO Policy Brief on eliminating sexual harassment in workplaces in Pacific countries emphasizes the benefits of internal policies on sexual harassment for employers achieved through social dialogue:

  • Internal policies to boost and build on national legislation on sexual harassment help victims bring complaints by recognizing that employers have a duty to prevent and deal with sexual harassment. 
  • Internal policies serve a preventive role by stopping harassment before it occurs or by responding to it early on, before the problem escalates.
  • Dissemination of the policy within the organization is vital to encourage victims to report cases and to inform and sensitize all workers, including management.
  • An internal policy is beneficial to the employer, as it shows a commitment to gender equality. 
  • If an employer successfully deals with sexual harassment complaints, the company is more likely to have more productive staff and higher staff retention. 

ILO makes the following recommendations for governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations:

  • Guidance: Governments, employers’ organizations and workers’ organizations have a role to play in guiding others in developing sexual harassment policies. For example, workers’ organizations can request that collective agreements include sexual harassment clauses and complaints procedures. Further, governments can produce manuals or other publications for dissemination to employers both in the public and private sector, as well as workers’ organizations. 
  • Awareness-raising: Governments and other interested groups should raise awareness about sexual harassment, through various activities including publicity campaigns and widespread dissemination of information.
  • Training: Governments, employers’ organizations and workers’ organizations should conduct training on sexual harassment in the workplace for specific individuals including company executives, trade union leaders, human resources personnel and workers. Training should include explanations of the legal framework, how to develop policies or how to raise awareness within their own organization. 
  • Research: Research is vital in showing the extent of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace and in analysing whether current measures are adequate. 

The ILO guidelines consider that relevant organizations should “conduct research and collect statistics in a systematic way to ensure a better understanding of the problem. This research will support and inform steps which the government, employers’ and workers’ organizations should take to minimize sexual harassment.”


Source: ILO (2015) Eliminating sexual harassment in workplaces in the Pacific Countries (ILO Office for Pacific Island Countries).
Available at: 

Tool 7: Tips on what employers can do to prevent sexual harassment

  • Inform managers, supervisor and workers, that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
  • Carry out a workplace survey, in consultation with unions and workers, to find out the extent of the problem in a workplace and how it can be addressed.
  • Hold discussions with unions and workers to suggest ways to create a positive working environment. 
  • Develop workplace policies and confidential complaints mechanisms that aim to prevent and address sexual harassment and violence.
  • Promote social dialogue and provisions within collective bargaining agreements on sexual harassment that address all workers (including casual, temporary, part-time as well as permanent and full-time workers),and that contain formal procedures for making complaints, and training and information for workers.
  • Ensure that managers and supervisors participate in training about sexual harassment and how it can be eliminated.
  • Provide support for victims of sexual harassment and violence, including access to legal advice and support during complaints and grievance processes. 

See Case Study 8.1 showing research carried out by the Indonesian Employers’ Association revealed that harassment led to sharply falling productivity, which subsequently led to the development of guidelines on tackling sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Tool 8: Tips on what unions can do to prevent sexual harassment

Unions defend and represent the rights of workers, including the right to a working environment free of sexual harassment:

  • Ensure union policies and structures address sexual harassment and violence.
  • Hold union meetings, conferences and training to support initiatives to organize and negotiate for GBV prevention. Provide training and awareness raising to union members and officers about sexual harassment and how it can be eliminated.
  • Set up regular women’s workshops for union members.
  • Carry out a survey, hold focus groups and/or workshops with union members to find out the extent of the problem in a workplace and how it can be addressed (see example below on union workshops held in Kenya and Lesotho).
  • Negotiate workplace policies and collective bargaining agreements that address all workers (including casual, temporary, part-time as well as permanent and full-time workers).
  • Aim to build joint positions and unity among unions organizing workers in the same sector.
  • Hold discussions with workers and managers to suggest ways to create a positive working environment. 
  • Draft a workplace policy on sexual harassment and disseminate it to all members.
  • Include the prevention and elimination of sexual harassment in collective agreements, setting out the roles and responsibilities of managers, including formal procedures for making complaints, training and information for workers.
  • Provide support for union members who are victims of sexual harassment and violence, including support during complaints and grievances processes. This can include a trade union legal assistance focal point for women victims, as a first point of justice.

Tool 9: Tips for unions for organizing workers in workplaces where there are no unions or where union presence is low

  • Find ways of meeting with workers outside the factory gates or in the local community to find out what their needs are and to inform them of how unions can help them.
  • Organize a community meeting in partnership with a local women’s organization and invite women workers to attend to find out more about what the union can do.
  • Organize training for women workers to build skills and knowledge about workers’ rights and unions.
  • Initiate contact with the employer and make arguments about why trade union representation can help the factory or farm to retain workers and promote a positive and healthy work environment.
  • Draw up a plan to address gender-based violence (see example below).
  • Train union officers and representatives on how to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.
  • Organize joint public events with other organizations on International Women’s Day (8 March) and the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November). 

See Case Study 8.2 Global union ITF Action Guide on Violence Against Women, which contains a useful checklist for action and suggestions for union actions to end violence against women.


It is important, especially in the sensitive area of sexual harassment and violence, that women’s insights and experiences are included in decision-making and the social dialogue process. Below are some examples of union workshops and initiatives to build women’s empowerment and capacity to participate in social dialogue and collective bargaining. Although many union events focus on women, it is also important that trade unions ensure that male members and supporters understand the reasons why sexual harassment is degrading to both women and men – and encourage men to stand against sexual harassment. 

Examples of union workshops and initiatives to build women’s empowerment and capacity

The Ethiopian Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers, an affiliate of global union IndustriAll, has carried out training and empowerment of women garment workers to build women’s self-esteem and to inform women about the importance of trade unions. Creative methods were used to talk to women about sexual harassment, including body mapping, workplace mapping and life mapping. Because sexual harassment is so prevalent in the Ethiopian garment industry, unions are stepping up their organizing efforts and supporting women facing sexual harassment.
Source: IndustriALL


In Maseru, Lesotho, more than a third of the country’s 40,000 textile workers belong to the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho. The union has run women’s workshops and training, supported by IndustriAll, in order to identify issues that women face at work. Issues raised by the women include insufficient toilet time, blocked or locked exits, excessive fatigue leading to fainting, excessive targets, sexual harassment, low pay which makes some women resort to prostitution, insufficient sleep, inadequate maternity leave provisions, and the risk of HIV. As one young garment worker in Lesotho said, “I want to work in a safe place and have a good salary and enough rest.” The workshops used body mapping, workplace mapping, life mapping, as well as visualization of dreams.
Source: IndustriALL news release: 


In Bangladesh, the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) carried out a successful women’s leadership development programme with support from UK TUC Aid. NGWF is a trade union federation in the Bangladesh garment sector, with 42 registered factory unions and 1,221 factory committees; 57 per cent of members are female. The programme addressed the frequent harassment of women workers and the widespread hostility of garment factory managers towards trade unions. The training covered both new women members and those already active in their union.  Further training was given to volunteer organizers on equality issues and organizing techniques. An evaluation of the programme showed its positive impact on levels of activism and women’s self-confidence. 
TUC Aid and NGWF:


The IUF Global Sugar Network carried out a series of workshops in four different sugar estates in Western and Nyanza provinces in Kenya with women members of the Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation Agricultural Workers (KUSPAW). The workshops discussed relevant issues for women workers in Kenya’s sugar sector and made recommendations for a union programme addressing their concerns. One of the recommendations related to education and awareness raising on sexual harassment, because it is an issue that many women sugar workers are concerned about. Other issues included the need for a gender perspective in occupational safety and health, maternity protection, and reducing stress through the provision of childcare facilities.
Source: IUF: