Preventing violence in the workplace

South Africa’s Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) – a division within the Department of Employment and Labour – has endorsed the International Labour Organisation’s recently adopted violence and harassment convention.

Noteworthy is the fact that the CEE has indicated that, as a matter of urgency, it will advise the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thembelani Nxesi, to recommend to parliament the ratification of the convention.

As part of its preparations for readiness, the CEE is reviewing current employment equity policy instruments with the aim of developing a comprehensive Code of Good Practice on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the workplace. In a statement, the CEE says it envisages that the new code will be published for implementation by June next year.

“The CEE recognises the right of every person to a world free from violence and harassment,” the statement says. Quoting chairperson Tabea Kabinde, it urges people from every walk of life to facilitate the elimination of the scourge wherever it manifests – in homes, communities, workplaces or society as whole. “We note that each member of our society has an important responsibility to promote a safe environment,” the statement says.

Turning specifically to violence and harassment in the workplace, the CEE points out that the trend appears to be developing rapidly worldwide, and requires immediate intervention. “The CEE recognises the fact that violence and harassment in the workplace constitutes a human rights violation or abuse, and that violence and harassment are a threat to equal opportunities, are unacceptable and incompatible with dignified, decent work.

“The commission submits that the effects of violence and harassment affect a person’s psychological, emotional and physical well-being, as well as their dignity, family and social environment. Notably, violence and harassment are incompatible with the promotion of sustainable enterprises, and impact negatively on the organisation of work, workplace relations, worker engagements, enterprise reputation, and on productivity.”

The statement adds that employers have a duty to ensure a safe working environment free of discrimination for all employees. It also states that governments and workers – including worker and employer organisations – are equally and legally obligated to take steps to eliminate any form of discrimination.

“They must implement measures such as strategies, policies, practices, procedures and programmes to prevent violence and harassment from taking place in the workplace and society as whole,” the statement says.

According to the CEE, current labour laws that directly and indirectly address harassment include the Occupational Health and Safety Act; the Employment Equity Act supplemented by Codes of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases in the workplace (2005) and the Harassment provision in the Code of Good Practice on the Integration of Employment Equity into Human Resources Policies and Practices (2005).

“These laws and codes are very clear on legal obligations of employers and employees in creating safe working environments free from violence and harassment,” the statement says, indicating that adoption of the International Labour Organisation’s convention will help to strengthen the effectiveness of existing legislation.


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