International labour movements, trade unions and LGBT equality

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2014 National LGBT Conference
31 July 2014

Conference welcomes the progress in recognition that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are human rights, including labour rights, with more countries adopting laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, even where legislation is in place, many LGBT workers still face discrimination. For transgender people, the picture is particularly bleak. Research shows they experience the most severe forms of workplace discrimination including, in some countries, complete exclusion from the formal labour market.

Throughout much of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and some parts of Europe, homosexual acts are illegal, sometimes with severe punishments including death. Countries with shocking records on LGBT rights often have labour movements that are under-developed, weak, or co-opted by government.

In 2013, Russia, Uganda and Nigeria all passed draconian laws restricting the fundamental human rights of LGBT citizens and those who defend their rights to free assembly and expression. Copycat anti-LGBT laws are pending elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. LGBT people are subject to arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, imprisonment, torture and other violence. The United States has 29 states that fail to protect workers from sexual orientation discrimination and 32 states failing to protect from gender identity discrimination.

Conference welcomes progress in International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), International Labour Organisation (ILO) and European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) recognition of LGBT workplace discrimination and actions to address it. ITUC LGBT policy was strengthened at its 2014 Congress as a result of UNISON action via the British TUC. ETUC has built on policy with education and support programs. The ILO recognises sexual orientation in a number of education and outreach efforts. ITUC works co-operatively with global unions, especially Education International (EI) and Public Services International (PSI), to advance LGBT equality. They have developed pro-active LGBT campaigns to educate members, provide support and drive policy. Conference welcomes 2014 amendments, suggested by UNISON, to the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) constitution on LGBT equality.

Globalisation and labour migration, whether migrants ourselves or not, affect us all. It impacts on LGBT workers and service users. For example the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – a comprehensive free trade and investment treaty being negotiated between the European Union and the United States – which aims to remove ‘regulatory barriers’, could have a major impact on our national health service. It will only serve the interests of multinationals and those who seek to push back regulation and liberalise public services.

Conference calls on the national LGBT committee to continue to:

1. Work with the National Executive Council international committee to encourage global, national and regional trade union initiatives for LGBT equality;

2. Seek opportunities to utilise UNISON’s International Development Fund which works with trade unions in developing countries to improve their capacity to organise, defend and promote rights and represent workers effectively;

3. Work with Labour Link, LGBT Labour and Labour Campaign for International Development to mobilise for the campaign against TTIP.