Are healthy workplaces possible without preventing harassment at work?

EU has launched a two-year Europe-wide campaign to promote sustainable work and healthy ageing for all. The campaign was launched on 15 April by the European Commission and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in cooperation with the Netherlands EU Presidency. According to the Commission it is the biggest campaign in this area.

The Agency was set up by the European Union in 1994 and is based in Bilbao, Spain. It brings together representatives from the European Commission, Member State governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations, as well as leading experts in each of the EU Member States and beyond.

The campaign focuses on Europe’s enterprises, both private and public, and the need to promote sustainable work and healthy ageing from the beginning of working life. By doing so, enterprises will be protecting their workers’ health up to and beyond retirement age and also increase their productivity.

Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, said on the launch of the campaign:

“At a time when there are important discussions going on about the future landscape of occupational safety and health in the EU, this campaign is extremely relevant. We need to start now to cater for the needs of Europe’s future workplaces and workers. Workplaces that address the health challenges of an ageing workforce gain in productivity. This is good for workers and good for business.”

The Commission explains that the campaign has four objectives:

  • to promote sustainable work and healthy ageing from the beginning of working life;
  • to highlight the importance of risk prevention throughout working life;
  • to assist employers and workers (including in small and medium-sized enterprises) by providing information and tools for managing occupational safety and health in the context of an ageing workforce;
  • to facilitate information and good practice exchange.
  • Key dates in the campaign calendar include the European Weeks for Safety and Health at Work (October 2016 and 2017) and the Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards ceremony (April 2017). The campaign will end with the Healthy Workplaces Summit (November 2017), when all those who have contributed to the campaign will come together with the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work to take stock of the campaign’s achievements and the lessons learnt.

The Brussels Times asked the organisers if the campaign will also include prevention of harassment (mobbing) at work places. Harassment is a major problem in most member states.

In e.g. Sweden, a country that carries out regular surveys, about 9 % of the work force in the public sector and private companies is estimated to be subject to mobbing – i.e. recurrent hostile acts or personal persecution by work colleagues or superiors. Figures in other countries may be higher.

The effects of harassments on the victims, their families, and the economy are devastating. The process starts when someone at the work place is singled out. It escalates to recurrent abuses, continues with ostracism and often ends with exclusion from the work place, illness and early retirement. In the worst case it ends with suicide.

Marta Urrutia from the Communication and Promotion Unit of EU-OSHA replied that the previous campaign in 2014 – 2015 was devoted to psychosocial risks and stress at work, including harassment and violence. Information about this campaign can be found at .

“Our current campaign Healthy Workplaces for All Ages will try to cover/respond to all occupational risks – including psychosocial ones - but the focus is not as specific as in the previous campaign,” she says.

A Framework agreement on harassment and violence at work was signed in 2007 by the social partners, representing employers and unions on European level. The decision deals mostly with information and awareness raising measures and has been unevenly implemented by the Member States.

The social partners have decided to look at the implementation of the framework agreement as one of the priorities in their 2015-2017 joint work programme. The European Commission is reportedly also working on an assessment of how the agreement has been implemented by the social partners across the EU.

There is good practice in Europe on prevention and prosecution of work harassment but currently anti-harassment legislation varies by member states. Some 10 years ago the Commission considered the possibility of harmonizing of anti-harassment legislation but it is doubtful that its current assessment will result in a proposal in that direction because of opposition by the social partners.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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