TPVH is a form of violence and harassment in the world of work, which is frequently defined as an occupational safety and health issue. The Multi-Sectoral Guidelines define third-party violence and harassment (TPVH) as violence and harassment that occurs at the workplace, in the public space or in a private environment that is work related. TPVH involves physical, psychological, verbal and/or sexual forms of violence, that can be one-off incidents or more systematic patterns of behaviour, by an individual or group, ranging from cases of disrespect to more serious threats, sexual violence and physical assault, and cyber-harassment. In predominantly female occupations, such as teaching and nursing, and in male-dominated sectors such as transport, women are disproportionately exposed to TPVH. Higher risks may occur in services where work carried out in in isolated or mobile locations or during unsocial hours, which is often the case in transport, telecoms service work and health care. A lack of resources for equipment, infrastructure and staffing can contribute to violent and harassing behaviour, particularly where customers or service users may have complex needs that are not being met. While rising levels of TPVH may be a consequence of greater awareness of the problem and more effective reporting, there is a wider political and social context facing public services relating to austerity measures, staffing shortages, more lone working, and higher demands on managers, along with a lack of trust in state institutions. These are factors that have become conduits for service user frustration and aggression against frontline workers and the normalisation of TPVH. TPVH is defined in ILO Violence and Harassment Convention (2019) No. 190 to include violence and harassment by clients, customers, students, pupils and the public. The Convention states that laws and obligations on employers “should take into account violence and harassment involving third parties, where applicable’. It is the first time that TPVH, along with domestic violence, have been included as part of a comprehensive definition of violence and harassment in an international Treaty.
Data on TPVH
Estimates of TPVH range from 2% to 23% of all workers, and up to 42% of workers who work in direct contact with the public. What does this mean for workers’ health? TPVH can have significant impacts on physical and mental health and wellbeing, resulting in higher levels of sick leave, psychosocial stress, and poor retention of workers. A 2021 special edition of the EWCS, the European Working Conditions Telephone Survey (link ) focused on the impact of COVID-19 on workers, including in front-line and essential services. Overall, 81% of all workers worked with customers, pupils or patients, while more than half of workers (53.3%) worked with them often or always. Findings related to adverse social behaviour (covering verbal abuse and threats; bullying, harassment and violence; and unwanted sexual attention) show that in the previous 12 months: • 15% of workers were subjected to adverse social behaviour, of which 9.3% of workers were exposed to verbal abuse and threats, 5.9% to bullying, harassment or violence and 1.8% unwanted sexual attention. • Workers who provide services to customers experienced twice the level of violence and harassment as workers who do not work with customers (14% and 7% respectively), and seven times higher levels of unwanted sexual attention (0.3% and 2.1% respectively). • How often a worker interacts with a customer is important. Workers who work with customers rarely or sometimes reported an increase in adverse social behaviour by 20-30%, except for unwanted sexual attention, which increased 4 times. However, working with customers often or always doubled the share of workers experiencing adverse social behaviour compared to those who were working with customers less frequently.
EWCTS data from different sectors and occupations shows that:
Workers from hospital activities and ‘other passenger land transport’ (which includes urban and suburban passenger land transport) reported experiencing verbal abuse or threats, and bullying, harassment and violence twice as often as the EU average.
Workers in hospital activities reported receiving unwanted sexual attention at three times higher than the EU average.
Workers from the employment activities sector reported double the verbal abuse or threats and unwanted sexual attention, but less bullying, harassment and violence than the EU average.
The overall share of verbal abuse or threats in the education sector was below the EU average, it was higher in the secondary education activities.
The lowest levels of any form of adverse social behaviour were reported in the telecommunications sector.
TPVH Project Survey results
An important part of the research undertaken during the TPVH project was to review of the implementation and updating of the Multi-Sectoral Guidelines. An online survey on TPVH was carried out between November 2021 and February 2022 covering the project’s six sub-sectors. The survey was addressed to national social partner organisations and responses were received from 165 social partner organisations (59 unions, 87 employers, 19 European level or undisclosed). In summary, the findings from the survey validate existing European and national data, while providing a lens on sector-specific problems. The survey also provided valuable insights into the awareness of the Guidelines and their future role in tackling the problem of TPVH. These findings helped to provide evidence and a context for the project’s thematic webinars, while also helping to inform the recommendations made in this report. • 80% of respondents believe that TPVH is an extremely, very or fairly serious problem. • 42% of respondents state that TPVH has had an extremely big or big impact on the quality of service delivery. • Verbal harassment, followed by psychological harassment and physical violence are the primary forms of TPVH experienced by workers, with some differences between sectors. • Around one-half of respondents report on initiatives to raise awareness or support staff, 40% report that TPVH is included in risk assessment and 33% that it is included in CBAs. • The most common policy initiatives are derived from OSH; and a large number of policies address all forms of violence and harassment, covering both internal and external violence and harassment. • Only 45% of respondents had policies or agreements addressing TPVH from a gender perspective, even though data suggests that women are disproportionately affected by TPVH. Most commonly cited is the implementation of support and safety measures for women victims of TPVH, with fewer numbers reporting policies on GBVH or integration of GBVH in risk assessments. • There is low awareness of the Multi-Sectoral Guidelines, with 70% of respondents being unaware of the Guidelines or their content. • Key recommendations that would help the social partners to improve their responses to TPVH include sharing of good practices, followed by information campaigns, better complaints mechanisms, guidance on GBVH, sector-specific guidelines and making the Guidelines legally binding.