C190 – Violence and Harassment Convention that promises a world of work that is free of violence and harassment came into existence during the ILO centenary year, on June 21st 2019.

This Convention was won when we did not know that we would be living through COVID 19 – a health and economic crisis that is severely impacting our world of work.   The Pandemic has intensified the already existing discrimination and violence in the world of work. The marginalised, minority and other vulnerable groups including informal and migrant workers are facing disproportionate impacts of the virus, making this inclusive Convention a crucial instrument to protect workers rights.

ILO Convention 190 addresses violence and harassment including gender-based violence in the world of work for all workers.

Convention 190 is an instrument to protect and promote rights of all workers against violence and harassment including gender based violence, during this crisis and beyond.

The convention 190 applies to all sectors, whether private or public, both in the formal and informal economy, and whether in urban or rural areas. (Article 2)

Having said that, it’s important to note that women workers – who are over-represented in the informal economy, precarious work, and in gender-segregated roles, especially in male-dominated sectors like transport – are facing specific and additional impacts of the pandemic. They are often working in the frontline in customer-facing roles like ticket sellers, cabin crew, cleaners, conductors and airport workers with increased vulnerability to violence, health and economic impacts during the Pandemic. 

Violence and harassment in the world of work 

There has been a global surge in domestic violence incidents and reports. One of the reasons being the overnight change of physical workplace as many countries are/have been in complete lockdown, leaving many survivors isolated in their homes with their abuser.  

Addressing the cause of the dramatic increase in domestic violence during the pandemic, Barb Macquarie from the DV@Work network states that  ‘Isolation is already an established tactic of domestic violence abusers even outside of a pandemic context’

According to a recent national study led by transport unions in India, in which 15,561 people shared their personal experiences of domestic violence, a response that resonated throughout was my workplace was the only place that kept me sane and helped me cope when I was facing domestic violence at home’.

ILO Convention 190 recognises domestic violence as a workplace issue, and states that employers, governments and unions shall take appropriate measures to recognise and mitigate the impacts of domestic violence in the world of work. (C190 Preamble, Article 10(f), Recommendation core principle, III(18).

Read here how employers can extend support to workers vulnerable to domestic violence during the Pandemic, on DV@Work network website. 

Increased risk of violence at workplace Women were already under-represented in male dominated sectors and are further isolated in their workplace during this Pandemic due to massive reductions in labour force participation – temporary or permanent – or through border closures leaving millions of workers stranded.

For example – More than 200,000 seafarers including women who have finished their contracts aboard the world’s ships and they want to go home. Government restrictions on travel and transit have prevented them from doing so during the Covid-19 pandemic.  This isolation during time of crisis has  increased the vulnerability to violence in the workplace for women.

The same risks, along with increased exposure to the virus, exist for customer-facing workers in urban transport.  For women of color, immigrant women or women with disabilities there are intersecting impacts, one fatal example happened when a black women railway worker in London died after being spat on at work by a man who said he had the virus.

ILO Convention 190 applies to violence and harassment in the world of work occurring in the course of, linked with or arising out of work.  This includes the commute to and from work and  employer-provided accommodation. Article  3 (a), (e), (f), and equips the workers to address a workplace crisis like this in the framework of Violence and harassment.

The world of work is being redefined every day 

Work-related communications, through information and communication technologies – already part of our world of work – has increased because of the Pandemic.  There is a rapid shift in ways of working including online meetings, digitalisation/e-offices, to adapt to the challenges of remote working during the Pandemic. There is an increased risk of harassment and violence in these new ways of working including cyber bullying and trolling.

C190 includes violence and harassment in the world of work occurring in the course of, linked with or arising out of work including in work-related communications, including those enabled by information and communication technologies; (Convention 190, Article 3 d)

Occupational health and safety As a result of the gender-segregated nature of the transport industry, women are concentrated on the frontlines of this pandemic in customer-facing and cleaning roles with a higher risk of infection and psychological impacts. This increased exposure, combined with a lack of adequate and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and no psychological support to process the experiences of customer anxiety, fatal risks at workplace, increased stress at home due to risk to the family, and the fact that women also make up the majority of precarious workers, means that women transport workers will disproportionately suffer the negative impacts of the coronavirus crisis.

We are lacking PPE kits and fear carrying the virus home, so we try to keep our children away from us. Even with these challenges, we feel proud to play an important role maintaining cleanliness for everyone.” – Railway worker, India

Convention C190 recognises violence and harassment and associated psychosocial risks as health and safety risk and states that steps should be taken by governments in consultation with representative employers’ and workers’ organisations, to ensure that violence & harassment  are integrated in relevant national policies, including by extending or adapting existing occupational safety and health measures. (Convention 190 – Article 9,11,12)

Visibility of women workers and inclusion in the COVID-19 response 

As we know COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on the global economy, and the most vulnerable groups that are being affected first, will also be the groups that will be affected most, including women.

Backed by research by Professor Tessa Wright on gender and male-dominated industries including transport, we know that strategies for improving the status of women workers succeed when positive gender action forms part of core project objectives and due diligence, with particular opportunities linked to public finance, and private finance for public infrastructure and service delivery.

As we navigate through pandemic, governments have essential responsibility in rebuilding the economy.  With substantial economic stimulus through public and private funds, it’s vital that gender justice is integrated within core investment criteria. The relief fund, economic policies, unemployment benefits need to be informed through the gender lens to make it truly inclusive. Thus it’s critical to ensure a gender lens is applied to COVID-19 response including through gender impact assessments.

Recommendation No. 206 recognises the importance of data. It calls upon states to make efforts to collect and publish statistics disaggregated by sex, forms of violence and harassment, and sector of economic activity, as well as by characteristics of groups in vulnerable situations. This is necessary to inform and monitor policy responses to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work (Para. 22 R206).

The Convention 190 provides a roadmap for a just, safe work environment and equality for all workers, which is critical for sustainability of businesses as the ILO highlights ‘violence and harassment is incompatible with the promotion of sustainable enterprises and impacts negatively on the organisation of work, workplace relations, worker engagement, enterprise reputation, and productivity’ (Convention 190 Preamble). Thus the Convention is also central to rebuilding the global economy. 

Find more about the ITF demand for Women transport workers’ rights and COVID-19 here.  

The ITUC has  produced a number of materials including:

  • Social media graphics and GIFs
  • FAQs
  • Mini guide to C190
  • Sample letter for lobbying governments

All the material are available at:


To know more about ITF C190 Campaign, to share information about ratification action by your union or government, or to get involved, write to us at women@itf.org.uk