Education institutions, which are the working environment for teachers and other education staff and the learning environment for young people, must be safe and secure to ensure the best possible setting for teaching and learning.
When violent incidents occur in schools, they obstruct teaching and have a malign influence on the working environment of teachers and the quality of learning. Whilst occurrences of most serious violence remain low, any violent incident can be distressing both for those directly involved and for those who witness it, be they staff or students.
It is therefore incumbent upon education institutions to take action designed to prevent violence in education institutions and harassment of education staff and to facilitate an atmosphere where young people can learn and teachers can perform their job in a positive, healthy and safe setting
The European Agency for Occupational Health and Safety (EU-OSHA) defines workplace violence as "all kinds of abusive behaviour", which "humiliates, degrades and damages a person's wellbeing, value or dignity." EUROFOUND stated in its report on physical and psychological violence at the workplace, that 6% of workers in Europe have experienced workplace violence in one form or another. The findings show that violence has a decisive influence on workers' well-being and is highly correlated to workers' absence rate.
Harassment can be understood as unwanted or unwelcome behaviour, which may range from unpleasant remarks to physical violence and affect workplaces deeply. Harassment and violence can:
- Be physical, psychological and/or sexual
- Be one off incidents or more systematic patterns of behaviour
- Be amongst colleagues, between superiors and subordinates or by third parties such as clients, customers, patients, pupils etc.
- Range from minor cases of disrespect to more serious acts, including criminal offences, which require the intervention of public authorities.
In the Framework Agreement on Harassment and Violence at Work (2007), the European Social Partner UNICE, UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC (and the liaison committee EUROCADRES/CEC) committed to tackle violence at the workplace. They aimed to raise awareness on the issue and to provide employers and workers with an "action-oriented framework" to "identify, prevent and manage problems of harassment and violence at work". Some valuable insight into reported levels of violence, bullying or harassment at work is provided by the Fourth European Working Conditions Survey carried out in 2005 in the EU27, in the two candidate countries Turkey and Croatia, as well as in Switzerland and Norway. The survey shows that overall approximately 10% of workers report having been exposed to violence, bullying or harassment at work in the previous twelve months. The education sector appears to be amongst those where that risk is the greatest. For example, workers in the education sector are six times more likely to have encountered the threat of physical violence than their counterparts in the manufacturing sector.
In 2010, the ETUCE Committee adopted the updated Action plan on preventing and tackling violence in schools, which suggests concrete actions for the European, national/regional, local and school level to tackle workplace violence and harassment.
ETUCE is committed not only to end workplace violence and harassment through the prevention of violence in education institutions, but also to combat and raise awareness on the impact of third-party violence and cyber-harassment in education. In this regard, ETUCE coordinated a project about the prevention of cyber-harassment of teachers and together with EFEE (European Federation of Education Employers) a project on how to prevent and mitigate third-party-violence in schools.