The Role of Trade Unions and Collective Bargaining
last updated November 1, 2003

The European Union has recognized the central role to be played by trade unions in preventing and combating sexual harassment:

  • Trade unions are uniquely able to take steps to "raise awareness of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace" by conducting training of company officers and representatives on sexual harassment and by including information on sexual harassment in all union-sponsored or approved training courses.
  • Trade unions also have an opportunity to encourage employers to adopt "adequate policies and procedures to protect the dignity of women and men at work in the organization." 
  • Trade unions may play a role as advisor to union members who have sexual harassment complaints, providing guidance on among other things, "any relevant legal rights. … Trade unions could consider designating specially trained officials to advise and counsel members with complaints of sexual harassment and act on their behalf if required. This will provide a focal point for support. It is also a good idea to ensure that there are sufficient female representatives to support women subjected to sexual harassment." 
  • Trade unions may introduce sexual harassment clauses in contracts that it negotiates on behalf of union members. These clauses would obligate that the employer take the appropriate steps to prevent harassment described in the Preventing Sexual Harassment Section. In this way, the union can use the collective bargaining process to "achiev[e] a work environment free from unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of women and men at work and free from victimization of a complainant or of a person wishing to give, or giving, evidence in the event of a complaint."

From EU Code of Practice on Measures to Combat Sexual Harassment included in Commission Recommendation of 27 November 1991 on the protection of the dignity of women and men at work, Official Journal L 049, 5-8 (24 February 1992).

It is also important that trade unions establish policies against sexual harassment within the trade union movement itself. From Violence against Women: Action Programme on Sexual Harassment Within the Trade Union Movement, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), 1999.

The following is an example of what steps a union in the United States considers to be a priority in its fight to eliminate sexual harassment:

There are a number of measures that local unions can take to combat sexual harassment. The goal is to make union members sensitive to the problem and to create a climate to discourage sexual harassment and, if it occurs, a climate where victims will feel comfortable turning to the union for assistance. Establish an anti-sexual harassment policy through local or council resolutions.

  • Educate the membership about the issue. This can include speakers, workshops and distribution of literature.
  • Include training on handling sexual harassment grievances as part of your steward training program. If the employers provide training for supervisors, get union stewards and officers included. 
  • Determine the extent of the problem in the workplace. A survey of the membership may be useful. 
  • Negotiate anti-sexual harassment language in your collective bargaining agreement and a procedure to deal with violations.
  • Work with employers to conduct jointly sponsored training programs. 
  • When sexual harassment does occur, act effectively to protect the members. Offer support, investigate and file appropriate grievances or complaints.
  • Be sure that the employer has an anti-sexual harassment policy that is prominently posted or otherwise effectively communicated to all employees. If the employer has no formal policy, bring up the issue in labor/management meetings and help them develop one. Make sure that policies include a "bypass" procedure which allows initial complaints to be filed with someone other than an immediate supervisor, who may be the harasser.

The sexual harassment resolution from the 1992 AFSCME convention, a sample membership survey, sample contract language and a sample employer policy are included in the appendix.


From Stopping Sexual Harassment, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—AFL-CIO (1993). For more information on the role of trade unions in preventing violence against women, including sexual harassment, please see Advocacy Strategies.