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  • Dedunie De Silva

Understanding Violence and Harassment in the Workplace – A Qualitative Analysis in South Asia

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

The objective of the study was to investigate the manifestations and impact of violence and harassment in the workplace. The study also aims to particularly measure the effects of COVID-19 in the workplace, while highlighting the gaps in literature and emphasizing the need for the ratification and implementation of ILO C-190.

The research is currently being carried out in five countries within the South Asian region – India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

The following are some of the key findings discussed by the researchers across the regions.

1. Consistency across the regions

A brief analysis of the existing findings from all five countries lead to the alarming realization that despite the individuality of each state, the manifestations and causes of violence and harassment in the workplace were strikingly similar across the region.

2. Increased violence and harassment during COVID-19

All researchers reported that employees spoke of increased violence and harassment during the pandemic period. It was noted that groups such as women, sex workers, manpower workers were affected more by the crisis. In general, it was apparent that the pandemic had a higher impact on employees from the informal sector.

3. Ongoing political shift

Most researchers found the ongoing political shift and change in leadership as a challenge both in terms of conducting the research and finding solutions for increased violence and harassment during the pandemic. It was revealed that the ongoing political shift only added an additional layer of uncertainty to the current circumstances.

4. Emphasis on the informal sector

Even though it was not deliberately organized, all researchers gave more emphasis to violence and harassment in the informal sector, since their findings showed that employees within this sector are at a disadvantage legally and socially despite being core contributors to their country’s economy.

5.Unconventional’ forms of harassment

Researchers found that many employees brought up forms of violence and harassment that were considered ‘unconventional’ and therefore were hardly mentioned in their local legal framework. For example, researchers from Pakistan noticed a high concern about ‘wages and overwork’ among employees.

6. Perspective of terminated employees

It was interesting to note the perspectives of employees who had been terminated from employment for speaking up about or reporting violence and harassment in the workplace. This showed the importance of and immediate need for structured and ethical reporting and investigation mechanisms in the workplace.

7. Political correctness of employers

Most researchers noted that conversations with employers seemed ‘careful’ and politically correct. While some denied the existence of workplace harassment (Sri Lanka), others labelled it as ‘inevitable’ (Nepal).

8. Difficulty in accessing LGBTIQ community

Whilst all researchers raised concerns about accessing participants for the study in general, they also highlighted difficulties in specifically reaching out to the LGBTIQ community. This raises the question whether this community has been left out of the conversation about workplace harassment for far too long and therefore have become apathetic.

9. Discrepancy between employees and employers

All researchers noted an unrealistic discrepancy between the testimonies and experiences of employees and employers. Whilst employees couldn’t stop talking about existing violence and harassment in the workplace, employers could hardly ‘remember’ to share such instances.

10. Discrepancy between male and female employees

Similar to existing literature, researchers also found the impact of workplace violence, even the impact of COVID-19, to be gendered. It was apparent that women were at the forefront of violence and harassment in the workplace, whereas men were primarily perpetrators, bystanders and reinforcers.

11. Legal framework

The countries in the research have laws in place to cover most forms of violence and harassment in the work place; whilst additionally, most work places also had policies in place to cover such scenarios. However, it was disheartening to note that most of these laws were not enforced or implemented in the manner that it should. The company policies were largely in place to ‘tick the boxes’ so to speak in terms of what was expected from a corporate governance and client expectation point of view, but not having any ‘teeth’ or impact in terms of bringing perpetrators to book.

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