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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 45 October 29, 2022

High Levels of Workplace Violence Lead to Increasing Concern | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 29 October 2022, by Bharat Dogra

High levels of workplace violence are becoming a cause for serious concern in many countries. According to the European Working Conditions Survey, 6 million workers in the European Union are exposed in one year to workplace violence. If verbal violence is included, then the number exposed to violence is likely to exceed 30 million. France, Denmark and Belgium are among those countries which are on the higher than average side of this violence.

In the USA during 2015- 2019 as many as 5,29,000 workers had to be taken for hospital emergency injury treatment due to workplace violence ( this figure excludes the likely higher number that could be treated with first aid). During 1992-2019 as many as 17,865 cases of death caused by workplace violence were reported in the USA, or 670 per year on average, peaking in 1994, when as many as 1080 workplace violence deaths were recorded in the country. There have been several cases of highly tragic shooting incidents at workplace in the USA, each claiming several human lives.

If only officially reported cases are counted, around 1.3 million non-fatal cases of workplace violence are reported in a typical year in the USA, but many cases are not reported officially.

If all available studies are used, then a more frightening picture emerges. According to the Human Development Report, in 1992 more than 2 million US workers were physically attacked at their workplace, nearly 6.5 million workers were threatened with violence and 16 million were harassed in some other way. The cost of all this in lost work and legal expenses came to more than $4 billion. About a sixth of the deaths on jobs in 1992 were homicides.

Sexual harassment at workplace has been found to be very high in the European Union as well as the USA. A report in the Parliament Magazine, European Union ( October 2019) is headlined—6 in 10 women in EU hit by workplace sexual harassment or violence. Citing a survey conducted by the French Institute for Public Opinion, it is stated here that 9 per cent of women in the European Union claimed to have been pressed at least once for an act of sexual nature in return for job or promotion. 14% reported repeated sexual contact or assault.

Recent studies for the USA have stated that 54% women have reported sexual harassment in the course of their career, with higher levels in specific areas, while nearly two thirds of these cases were not reported or pursued. Earlier studies from the USA stated that 40-75% of women and 13-31% of men have been exposed to sexual harassment in the workplace (Aggarwal and Gupta, 2000) while a large study for the European Union stated that 50% of all women had experienced sexual harassment in their working life (Latcheva, 2017). Prevalence of sexual harassment experiences to the extent of 50% to 60% of women, and prevalence of sexual violence experience for lesser but still significantly high levels of women employees is clearly indicative of unacceptably high levels of workplace violence.

Workers in India and several other countries are known to experience high levels of pressures, at times escalating in violence and assaults, when efforts to unionize workers and to increase their resistance to exploitative practices are made. This writer had documented several such cases at the time of struggles led by the legendary labor leader Shankar Guha Niyogi in Chattisgarh region of India. Ultimately these assaults and violence instigated by some leading industrialists of the region culminated in the assassination of Niyogi in 1991.

According to a report in 2020, a study conducted by Careerbuilder.in had revealed that as many as 55% of workers in India face bullying at workplace. Several news reports have been drawing attention to cases of violence being used against workers including industrial workers, domestic workers, mining and brick-kiln workers. Migrant workers, far away from their homes and friends, and child workers are in particular trapped sometimes in very vulnerable and difficult situations.

At the same time cases of violence as well as threats of violence have also been reported from hospitals and educational institutions and what are normally highly respected professions like teachers, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel have also been at the receiving end of violence. Surprisingly in a country like Italy, threat of violence for teachers has been reported to be quite high. Elsewhere retail workers, taxi drivers and hotel/restaurant workers have experienced higher threat from violence and assault.

Violence at workplace can be internal violence, involving workplace personnel, or can be related to clients, customers and security agencies. It is extending to new areas, and concern over workplace violence is steadily increasing. Workplace violence adds much to the already high levels of stress and worry experienced increasingly by workers and employees. Efforts to reduce workplace violence and to check its many-sided causes need to be stepped up and this task should involve the close cooperation and involvement of workers.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine, Planet in Peril and A Day in 2071.)

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