Every year on December 6th people across Canada remember the 14 women who were murdered in a horrific act of gender-based violence at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in 1989. This is a day to honor those lost to gender-based violence and to commit to eliminating it by taking concrete actions. Canada’s unions have marked the National Day of Remembrance and Action since the beginning and this year are saying #NeverAgain: End Gender-Based Violence at Work now.
33 years after the École Polytechnique attack, the CLC’s National Survey on Harassment and Violence at Work exposed the unnerving reality that gender-based harassment and violence remain a persistent threat to workers. The survey also found that third-party violence (from customers, clients, patients and others) accounts for 1 in 3 of these incidents and is a particular threat to women and gender-diverse workers who are more frequently employed in public-facing jobs.
“We hear heartbreaking stories from workers of harassment and violence from members of the public, their patients, or clients,” said Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). “And even more devastating, every year workers in Canada are murdered at work due to rising rates of third-party violence fuelled by misogyny, racism, transphobia, and homophobia. We know that third-party violence is a significant and sometimes deadly threat to workers, yet existing legislation on workplace health and safety does not adequately cover it.”
Inaction can be deadly. In 2019, Deborah Onwu, a youth social worker was killed while caring for a client. In 2021, Julia Ferguson, was murdered at the law firm she worked at. In 2022, Harmandeep Kaur was murdered while working as a security guard on the University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan campus. The murder of these three women is a stark reminder of how much work we have yet to do to address gender-based violence and harassment at work and the continued threat of third-party violence.
“We need a gender-responsive and intersectional approach to tackling third-party violence and we can find that approach in International Labour Convention 190 (C‑190),” said CLC President Bea Bruske. “While the Canadian government has taken the first steps to ratify C-190, we need a plan to implement it properly and workers’ voices need to be at the centre of that plan. Labour is ready to do our part, but we cannot do it alone. Governments and employers must work with us to address third‑party violence and its disproportionate impact on women and gender-diverse workers.”
That is why, during this year’s 16 Days of activism, the CLC is calling on the government to bring other levels of governments, unions and workers together for a tripartite summit to examine the issue of third-party violence, its impact on women and gender-diverse workers, and to formulate a plan for addressing this urgent issue as a key step toward implementing C-190. Refusing to act is not an option as workers continue to face life-threatening incidents of harassment and violence at work.
“Together we can make work safer and say Never Again to gender-based violence.”
Read more about third-party violence at work and its impacts on women, two-spirit, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming workers in this statement by labour leaders.
To read the results on the National Survey on Harassment and Violence at work click here.