Workers’ rights are LGBTI rights

On this Labour Day, while we celebrate the victories achieved over the years that protect and advance worker's rights, the struggle is far from over, especially when looked from the lense of vulnerable communities, like LGBTI people. While countries of the Western Balkans provide legal protection from discrimination in employment, this does not mean that their rights are adequately protected from employers be them public or private. If it were to be just about the law, then most people would not be afraid to speak openly about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and in a better world those characteristics would not jeopardise their employment or career opportunities. Meanwhile in Turkey, and unfortunately in a lot more other countries around the world, LGBTI people are not offered legal protection from discrimination in employment. 

The regional LGBTI survey, which was conducted in 2018 by the World Bank, Victory Institute and ERA, and collected the inputs of more than 3300 respondents from the entire Western Balkans region, found out that two-thirds of LGBTI people hide their SOGI identity at work. Forty one percent have witnessed negative attitudes, comments and conduct towards LGBTI colleagues, with trans people and lesbians suffering more sevear discrimination at work. In Serbia, 33% of LGBTI people report a general negative attitude at work towards their community. This increases to 62% for transgender respondents. Nearly half of LGBTI people in Serbia are completely “closed off” from their work colleagues about being LGBTI. 

Also, we need to look at the problems a bit more closely and by understanding that not all LGBTI people are affected the same by discrimination and that consequences are also varied. 

Trans people are also extremely vulnerable to their right to work being violated. The World Bank’s comparative analysis on socio-economic exclusion of LGBTI people in Serbia found out that transgender people earn much less than everyone else in society, as a direct result of discrimination. Among the LGBTI subgroups, transgender people are more at risk of poverty, material deprivation and acquiring less education. At work, 70% of trans people have been asked about their gender identity by their employers or potential employers, and one out of five have suffered discrimination based on their gender identity. The very same research, reveals also that very few LGBTI people are employed in the public sector, showing that the current anti-discrimination legislation is not working to ensure equal employment. Keeping in mind how the public sector is a very stable source of employment in Serbia, lack of inclusion of trans persons shows their high vulnerability. In combination with the reported extremely low trust of LGBTI people towards public institutions in the country, makes for a very concerning picture. In Turkey, Pink Lifereports that trans people’s basic human rights are constantly violated, including here that of employment, housing, health as well as the right to live. 

Particularly vulnerable are also LGBTI+ people living with HIV. In Turkey employers force people to test for HIV either during recruitment process or as a condition to continue their jobs. Workers are exposed to questions about their lifestyle, the confidentiality of their HIV status is being violated, business conditions are changed, employment contracts are terminated, and their social rights are restricted. 

Many other communities, whether they are LGBTI or not, such as sex workers, people with dissabiliities, ethnical and cultural minorities, migrants and refugees, suffer from discrimination and exlusion. 

We call on: 

- Government authorities to ensure that employment laws and policies are effectively implemented also for LGBTI+ people and that they benefit from the same opportunities as everyone else; 

- For any practices, policies and regulations that discriminate on people living with HIV/AIDS to be terminated immediately; 

- On unions to start look more closely into the issues and challenges that LGBTI+ workers face, by engaging also with LGBTI+ organizations and communities;

- Businesses and other private enterprises to look closely into their non-discrimination and inclusion practices and make sure that they are accessible, applicable and helpful also to LGBTI+ employees;

All stakeholders, should better align their efforts with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030, whose “leave no one behind” principle is especially relevant for LGBTI+ people, who over the decades have been repeatedly left behind by national and international development initiatives. Goals 1) No poverty, 2) zero hunger, 3) good health and well-being 4) quality education 5) gender equality 8) decent work and economic growth, 10) reduced inequalities, 12) sustainable cities and communities, 16) peace, justice and strong institutions and 17) partnerships for the goals apply just as much to LGBTI+ people. 

Protecting LGBTI+ rights in the workplace is not only important for promoting a better working space, increasing productivity, improving brand image or good advertising. As valid as these arguments are, the most important reasons against the costly exclusion of LGBTI+ people, is that exclusion and discrimination is detrimental to the health, education and overall employment outcomes for LGBTI people, with significant impact on their economic well-being and that of society as a whole.