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Bipartite social dialogue and collective bargaining

Dernière modification: July 06, 2020

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Bipartite social dialogue between employers and workers can be done through formal or informal dialogue, and its results range from practical workplace solutions to formal collective agreements. Collective bargaining can take place at the national, sectoral or enterprise level. Where unionization rates are low or where there is hostility towards, or retaliation against, union activity (ITUC, 2017b), informal dialogue has proven to be an effective way to address some workplace concerns (Morris and Pillinger, 2018).

Trade unions are increasingly playing an important role in preventing violence and harassment and providing support to victims, particularly in sectors where women face greater risks of violence and harassment. At the global level, global union federations have led several ground-breaking global campaigns, as well as initiatives to raise awareness and organize women workers.  They are contributing substantial support and expertise for unions across the world, for instance, in implementing measures to promote gender equality, eliminate sexual harassment and improve the representation of women in decision-making structures within unions (Union to Union, 2018).

Social dialogue is also essential in global supply chains, where effective forms of supply chain management can address sexual harassment by workers, supervisors and managers (ILO, 2016a). In this context, social dialogue contributes to improving productivity and fosters safe work practices, respect for workers’ rights and improved work organization and working conditions. The Better Work Programme is a collaboration between the ILO and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) that works across all levels of the garment industry to improve working conditions and respect of labour rights for workers of the garment sector. Across the Programme’s action, social dialogue has proven extremely important. A greater presence of women representatives and the holding of fair elections for workers’ representative positions empowers women to better express their interests in the workplace.  Following Better Work’s intervention, such as prevention trainings, surveys covering over 15,000 garment workers and 2,000 factory managers in Haiti, Indonesia, Jordan, Nicaragua and Vietnam indicate that women workers generally earn higher wages and report reduced concerns regarding sexual harassment (ILO and IFC, Undated).

Social dialogue is crucial for women workers’ voices to be heard, for example, on issues such as long working hours and production pressures, access to toilet breaks, and the introduction of complaints systems to deal with violence and harassment at work (Morris and Pillinger, 2018).

Collective bargaining to end violence and harassment against women

Collective bargaining to reduce sexual harassment in the cut flowers export sector in East Africa[1]

Sexual harassment has been identified as a problem in the horticulture sector in East Africa, where 70 per cent of workers are women. In Uganda, the improvement of workers’ rights and enhancement of working conditions has been promoted on farms through collective bargaining and advocacy by trade unions and NGOs (Evers, Amoding and Krishnan, 2014).

The 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Uganda Flower Exporters Association (UFEA) and the Horticulture and Allied Workers’ Union (UHAWU), requires the establishment of a sexual harassment policy and provides further detail on its key content (Collective Bargaining Agreement between UFEA and UHAWU, 2010, para. 20 & 20.1), establishes employers’ obligation to take measures to prevent sexual harassment if they employ more than twenty five employees (Collective Bargaining Agreement between UFEA and UHAWU, 2010, para 20.4)  and provides for a grievance-handling procedure (Collective Bargaining Agreement between UFEA and UHAWU, 2010, para. 15). Along with these measures, the agreement also includes the establishment of a joint gender and equality subcommittee mandated to “study, inform/advise and make recommendations” to the Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) (Collective Bargaining Agreement between UFEA and UHAWU, 2010, para. 22a).  

Through this collective agreement, working conditions have improved, and farms have implemented a mixture of employer-led and worker-led grievance mechanisms. Women workers can raise concerns with women respondents in the union’s Women’s Committee, and changes in management structures have been implemented to reduce excessive or discretionary power exacerbating sexual harassment.


Collective agreement on sexual harassment in the woodworking sector in Italy (CCNL Legno Industria, 2015)

There has been an active call to address gender-based violence in the Italian woodworking sector, where women workers represent 30 per cent of the workforce (ETUC, 2017a, p.10). The 2015 collective agreement between  Federazione Nazionale Lavoratori Edili Affini e del Legno - Unione Italiana del Lavoro (FENEALUIL),  Federazione Italiana Costruzioni e Affini - Confederazione Italiana del Sindicati Lavoratori (FILCA-CISL),  Federazione Italiana dei Lavoratori del Legno, dell'Edilizia, delle industrie Affini ed estrattive - Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (FILLEA-CGIL) and FederlegnoArredo (FLA) is an innovative agreement on sexual harassment. It includes a detailed Code of Conduct on sexual harassment and mobbing, encompassing the establishment of a committee of worker and employer representatives tasked with raising awareness amongst employers and workers. The agreement requests companies to commit to signing the Code of Conduct within one year after the establishment of the committee (Pillinger, 2017b).


Negotiations in the banking/financial sector in Brazil

The 2016-2018 collective agreement between the Brazilian Confederation of Financial Sector Workers (CONTRAF-CUT) and the National Federation of Banks (Fenaban) foresees the voluntary adherence to the Protocol for the prevention of conflicts at work (Contraf-CUT and Febraban, 2016-2018, section 56). This Protocol has provisions regarding the prevention of conflicts at work, including harassment. It requires the establishment of complaints mechanisms internal to the workplace (Contraf-CUT and Febraban, Undated) section 2.a) and provides for the possibility that complaints are filed to the union, which would subsequently present it to the bank (Contraf-CUT and Febraban, Undated, section 4.a).


European Framework Agreement on Violence and Harassment at Work (BusinessEurope, ETUC, CEEP and UEAPME, 2007, sections 1 and 2)  

The European Framework Agreement was signed in 2007 by the European social partners, including BusinessEurope, the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises (CEEP), the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). It acknowledges that “different forms of harassment and violence…can be physical, psychological and/or sexual” and that violence and harassment “can potentially affect any workplace and any worker, irrespective of the size of the company, field of activity or form of the employment contract or relationship.” It includes violence and harassment occurring “amongst colleagues, between superiors and subordinates or by third parties such as clients, customers, patients [or] pupils.” The agreement also provides employers, workers and their representatives with “an action-oriented framework to identify, prevent and manage problems of harassment and violence at work.”

The implementation of the Framework Agreement was presented by the European social partners in a formal report in 2011 (BusinessEurope, ETUC, CEEP and UEAPME, 2011), showing that the agreement has led to the introduction of national and sectoral agreements, as well as legislation, to protect workers from violence and harassment, including sexual harassment. For example:

  • The French social partners signed a national cross-industry agreement concerning harassment and violence at work on 26 March 2010 (BusinessEurope, ETUC, CEEP and UEAPME, 2011, p. 17) subsequently declared universally applicable by the French Government (European Commission, 2016, p. iv.).
    • A national agreement signed by the Danish Working Environment Authority, the Employers’ Confederation (DA) and the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), specifies that local agreements have to be adopted to tackle mobbing, harassment and sexual harassment at work. Guidelines have been adopted, and an amendment has been made to Labour law. This led to a wide range of local agreements at company level and in municipalities and regions (ETUC, 2017c, p.8).


[1] The Republic of Uganda Collective Bargaining Agreement between signatory members of Uganda Flower Exporters Association and Uganda Horticultural and Allied Workers’ Union, available at: For further information see ITC-ILO (online) ‘Challenging sexual harassment in horticulture through social dialogue in Uganda’: