Trade unions must focus on learning, training and campaigning to improve the rights of LGTBI+ workers. This message was heard by around one hundred representatives from UNI Global Union affiliates who met online for the annual LGBTI+ network.

Guillermo Correa Montoya, professor at the University of Antioquia, said trade unions are and can be key allies for the LGBTI+ community but it’s important to become educated on the issue of gender identity and diversity, avoid stereotypes and take intersectional issues into consideration, for example when workers are impacted by additional factors such as race or ability.

This is highlighted by a recent survey of subcontracted Google workers from the Alphabet Workers Union, which found that LGBTQ vendors make on average 15 per cent less than their heterosexual coworkers, Black and Hispanic workers made 20 per less than their white counterparts and vendors with disabilities make on average 18 per cent less than their able-bodied co-workers.

In some countries there is no recognition for LGBTI+ rights in labour law or homosexuality is illegal. Even if it not illegal, discrimination can be rife including in unions.

Jane Pillinger, an activist and campaigner for gender justice, revealed how she lost her first job for being a lesbian. She has since become a strong advocate for the rights of LGBTI+ people. She warned that rights are fragile and that many reports point to LGBTI+ harassment and hate speech increasing in the workplace. She underlined that social dialogue and collective bargaining lead to better outcomes for all workers and that unions can play a powerful role by integrating LGBTI+ rights into collective agreements with employers. She also demonstrated how language from the International Labour Organization Convention 190 against violence and harassment can be used by unions to uphold LGTI+ rights.

James Cavalluzzo, co-ordinates the Global Unions LGBTI+ Worker Project which takes actions around the world and offers a range of resources available in a multitude of languages.

Michele Kessler, from UFCW in the U.S., said LGBTI-that trainings by her union make a real difference. “Workers who are trained are more likely to go to management, file a grievance or stick up for a co-worker,” she said adding that only 50 per cent of LGBTI+ feel safe at work.

Her union’s UFCW OUTreach programme had trained thousands of leaders and stewards on how to protect LGBTI+ workers, which is especially significant since 21 to 27 per cent of Generation Z identify as LGBTI+.

The meeting also heard from Mariska Exalto, from FNV, Netherlands who shared best practices on their collective bargaining for trans workers at PostNL, resulting in 24 weeks’ paid leave for people in transition over a period of ten years.  

Other speakers from the floor included Celeste Peresino and Alejandra Estoup, both from La Bancaria Argentina, who shared good practices regarding quota for trans workers at the Argentina National Bank.

Head of UNI Equal Opportunities, Veronica Fernandez Mendez, said:

Equality and diversity are our strengths and as trade unions we need to continue to work on promoting the rights of LGBTI+ workers as they come under attack. We encourage everyone to make use of the training materials and resources available so all workers can feel safe at work.”