Violence at work rising worldwide; epidemic levels in some countries: UN labour agency

14 June 2006

Violence at work, ranging from bullying and mobbing, to threats by psychologically unstable co-workers, sexual harassment and homicide, is increasing worldwide and has reached epidemic levels in some countries, according to a new publication by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO).

Violence at work, ranging from bullying and mobbing, to threats by psychologically unstable co-workers, sexual harassment and homicide, is increasing worldwide and has reached epidemic levels in some countries, according to a new publication by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO).

In addition, the global cost of workplace violence is enormous and costs untold millions of dollars in losses in other countries due to causes including absenteeism and sick leave, according to the latest edition of ILO’s Violence at Work.

“Bullying, harassment, mobbing and allied behaviours can be just as damaging as outright physical violence. Today, the instability of many types of jobs places huge pressures on workplaces, and we’re seeing more of these forms of violence,” according to the authors of the study.

The publication, which is written by Vittorio Di Martino, an international expert on stress and workplace violence, and Duncan Chappell, past president of the New South Wales Mental Health Review, Australia, also addresses the growing concern of terrorism, which the authors describe as “one of the new faces of workplace violence.”

The study notes that professions once regarded as sheltered from workplace violence such as teaching, social services, library services and health care are being exposed to increasing acts of violence, in both developed and developing countries.

Drawing on statistics from all over the world, the ILO highlights various trends, noting for example that in Germany, a 2002 study estimated that more than 800,000 workers were victims of mobbing, where a group of workers targets an individual for psychological harassment. In Spain, an estimated 22 per cent of officials in public administration were victims of mobbing.

In developing countries, the most vulnerable workers include women, migrants and children, according to the report. In Malaysia, 11,851 rape and molestation cases at the workplace were reported between 1997 and May 2001. Widespread sexual harassment and abuse were major concerns in South Africa, Ukraine, Kuwait and Hong Kong, China, among other countries, the report said.

On a more positive note, the study cited improvements in England, Wales and the United States. For example in England and Wales, the estimated 849,000 incidents of workplace violence in 2002-2003 represented a decline from 1.3 million such incidents cited in a previous survey.

In terms of tackling the issue of workplace violence, the study goes on to highlight a number of “best practice” examples from local and national governments, enterprises and trade unions from around the world that have successfully implemented “zero tolerance” polices and violence-prevention training programmes.

The ILO has adopted a number of fundamental Conventions on worker protection and dignity at work.

 

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