Education International
Education International

Freedom at Work: education unionists reaffirm LGBTI workers' rights

published 8 August 2016 updated 16 August 2016

The achievement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’s rights is both a trade union and professional challenge, reaffirmed Education International’s General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen at the Freedom at Work Conference in Amsterdam.

Organised by the Pink Network of the Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging ( FNV), a Dutch trade union federation, the Freedom at Work Conference, held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, from 4-5 August, gathered union leaders and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) unionists and activists from around the world. During plenary and workshop sessions, participants exchanged strategies to create safe workplaces and classrooms, and societies free of violence and discrimination, including racism and xenophobia.

You can count us in!

“The FNV’s initiative in organising this conference has been acknowledged and reminds all of us of what is still to be done. You can count us in,” said van Leeuwen in his address to the plenary.

Education International will develop the LGBTI network and continue to support regional initiatives, he said. It is regrettable that many organisations still do not recognise the importance of protecting their LGBTI members, van Leeuwen added. With its affiliates, EI will continue advocating for their rights and the rights of the students they teach.

Van Leeuwen highlighted three vital tasks for trade unions in general and national teachers’ organisations, “the most active advocates for minority rights”:

·         Fight against open or covert discrimination by employers, public authorities, colleagues, parents, or students, with all available means

·         Promote and help develop education programmes aimed at fighting intolerance and prejudice, and provide professional guidance to classroom teachers to implement these programmes effectively

·         Enable and encourage LGBTI members to organise, nationally and internationally

All lives matter

“We will only be successful when our global initiatives are combined with action at national and local level, when we join forces with other civil society movements, with dissidents within autocratic regimes who show incredible personal courage. Black lives, LGBTI lives, refugee lives … yes, lives matter. And we must fight hatred and violence together,” said van Leeuwen during one of the many workshops, adding that LGBTI teacher unionists LGBTI teacher unionists cannot be expected to ‘come out’ as long as these rights are not respected. “Building a broader international movement for democracy and diversity is the way to go”.

Increasing discrimination

The conference was also attended by Public services International(PSI) General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli. “In this age of neoliberal globalisation, environmental crises and mass migrations, racism, xenophobia and all types of discrimination are on the rise,” she said.

In addition to the “demonisation” of migrants, “entire segments of national populations are de-legitimised and condemned”, Pavanelli added, noting that “the link between racism, sexism and the exploitation of labour reminds us of who is on our side”.

The Chair of the FNV Pink Network, Ger Gorlsma, also outlined the two key conference’s outcomes: a platform network of unionists and activists, and a reminder to all global unions to put LGBTI rights on their agenda and take concrete steps to boost the implementation of these rights within their member organisations.

More collaboration

During more than 15 workshops sessions, unionists, including teachers, and LGBTI activists exchanged information, shared training models and initiatives to develop materials.

During a session organised by EI and PSI, affiliates shared knowledge, assessed progress, and expressed concerns about setbacks about LGBTI rights at the workplace. Participants said more comprehensive human rights training and guidelines need to be developed. And more relationships and joint actions within different anti-discrimination union networks need to be built, along with alliances with other social justice movements.

Call for EU to prioritise equality

Celebrating the Europride event, the European Trade Union Confederation(ETUC) announced concrete proposals to the European Union’s institutions and reaffirmed its mobilisation against discrimination and for equality for all. The ETUC also urged European institutions to prioritise equality and non-discrimination, ensuring that the rights of LGBTI and all workers are strengthened, from  legislative and policy angles, as well as through social dialogue and industrial relations at all levels.

Insufficient progress achieved

At the forefront of the LGBTI movement for decades, EI and PSI advocate for international standards while bringing charges against public authorities globally for rights violations. While important standards on non-discrimination and equality for LGBTI, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance have been adopted in the last few years, they believe that trade unions can do more. In some countries, people who are LGBTI or migrants are being used as scapegoats to distract voters from real political and economic problems, and activists are attacked as a threat to national identity and morality.

In October 2017, PSI and EI are organising a joint LGBT Worker’s Forum. This will be a pre-PSI Congress event and a great opportunity to enhance unity, strengthen LGBTI union networks, and make the human rights agenda more inclusive and visible to all.