APRIL 26 2007 18:34h
European Union employers and trade unions teamed up to try to halt a rising trend in harassment and violence at work.
They have sett a three-year deadline for companies to take action.
The proportion of employees subjected to physical violence at work in the 15 EU member countries which existed before the inclusion of mainly former communist states in 2004 rose to 6 percent from 4 percent over 10 years to 2005, a study cited by the unions showed.
For the 10 nations that joined in 2004, the number of workers subjected to violence from people within or outside the workplace rose to 4 percent in 2005 from 3 percent in 2001, the study by the research body, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, said.
Incidents of sexual harassment, defined as unwanted sexual attention, were stable at 2 percent of the EU workforce, as were the number of cases involving discrimination on the basis of age and nationality -- 3 and 1 percent respectively.
"The costs of harassment and violence are very, very high, and the damage to individuals and sometimes organisations is also very high," European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) General Secretary John Monks told a news conference.
He said victimised individuals could cost a company up to 100,000 euros ($136,000) annually each, taking into account loss of productivity, absenteeism, payouts for litigation, staff replacement and early retirement costs.
Rainer Plassmann, secretary general of public employer group CEEP, said harassment and violence at work at Britain's National Health Service cost the organisation some 70 million pounds ($140 million) a year.
ETUC, the BusinessEurope employers' lobby, CEEP and UEAPME representing small and medium-sized firms signed an agreement to raise the awareness of the problem among companies and make them set up procedures by April 2010 to deal with it.
According to the 2005 study, the highest number of incidents of physical violence and threats of violence at work were reported in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Ireland and Britain.