Trade unions work to protect the rights of all members, including those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT). Unions can force employers to have inclusive workplaces free of discrimination and homophobia. Unions can negotiate for the rights of LGBT workers. They can also help to educate their members and to promote inclusive practices.
Here are some steps unions can take to prevent discrimination against LGBT workers:
- Create opportunities to discuss LGBT rights.
- Adopt an anti-discrimination policy that refers to sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Extend union benefits to include same-sex partners and the families of same-sex couples.
- Use inclusive language in all communications – for instance, use ‘partners’ instead of ‘wives’ or ‘husbands’.
- Ensure gender programmes are well-resourced to support LGBT workers and job seekers who face discrimination and harassment at the workplace.
- Ensure gender coordinators undergo training so that they understand different forms of discrimination and can implement sensitisation programmes.
- Include LGBT rights on the collective bargaining agenda.
- Demand and enforce transparent employment, disciplinary and termination practices that protect all workers.
- Organise union education strategies aimed at combating heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia.
- Create programmes that let all members know that discrimination will not be tolerated and share these widely using different forms of media.
- Design and conduct diversity training for union staff and members, with a higher level of training offered to shop stewards and others handling grievances.
- Increase the visibility of LGBT workers – for example, by including content about LGBT workers in various communications.
- Ensure LGBT workers are well-represented in leadership positions.
- Appoint LGBT ‘human rights champions’.
The LRS response to exclusion and discrimination in workplaces
The Labour Research Service (LRS) supports the efforts of trade unions to build inclusive and safe workplaces where LGBT workers feel free to claim their rights. We focus on creating environments that encourage different groups to come together and explore common ground to facilitate individual change in consciousness and behaviours. We profile the LGBTI rights work to a broader audience through our online platforms and engagements with international solidarity partners and the media.
In 2021, we offered online mentoring support to gender coordinators at COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU to advance the agenda of protecting and supporting workers who are LGBT. The gender coordinators hosted webinars for activists to keep LGBT rights as a topic of discussion in unions. Gender coordinators also worked to influence policy and resource allocations in their organisations.
- Workplace rights belong to everyone | A trade union guide to negotiating for inclusivity and against discrimination
- Coming out at work | A practical guide for LGBT workers
- What will it take to build LGBT-inclusive workplaces in South Africa?
- Get real | A discussion paper on whether a compliance-based approach to LGBTI economic empowerment can work in South Africa