On International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Employers reaffirm that sexual orientation and gender identity must never be the basis for discrimination.
By: Mthunzi Mdwaba
IOE Vice-President to the International Labour Organization
The IOE refutes efforts to distort our intention or misrepresent our views on LGBTI discrimination in negotiations on a proposed ILO Convention to end violence and harassment at work. On this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the Employers’ want to reaffirm our position that sexual orientation and gender identity must never be the basis for discrimination. Vulnerable groups should be specially protected. Violence and harassment against any individual because of their sexual orientation or gender identity must never be tolerated.
When negotiating international treaties misinformation can be a strategy to undermine the process or diminish the text of the proposed convention. This appears to be the case for the current negotiations underway at the International Labour Organization (ILO) on a landmark Convention and Recommendation to eliminate violence and harassment at work.
For the past two years, the tripartite governance of the ILO has been intensively negotiating a new Convention supplemented by a Recommendation with a view to adopting them during the upcoming 108th International Labour Conference (ILC). The ILO has a unique governance structure that brings together workers, governments and employers, such as during the ILC, to set agreed upon international labour standards.
The path to adoption is taking some extremely disturbing turns. Misleading information is being spread on the position of the Employers’ Group in relation to the inclusion of a list of vulnerable groups requiring additional protection. Some people are accusing the Employers’ Group and its secretariat, the IOE, of only wanting to exclusively put lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people on the list — removing migrants, gender, age or other groups.
Another rumour has it that the Employers’ Group is only fighting to keep LGBTI on the list to sabotage the entire adoption process. In this instance, our stance to keep LGBTI on the list is seen as not based on any commitment to stop discrimination, but more a political maneuver to prevent the Convention’s adoption.
The Employers’ Group, along with the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), are committed to standing up and fighting for equality and non-discrimination in employment and occupation. In the negotiations on the Convention, all our contributions are motivated by this fundamental principle.
Why is there such widespread misunderstanding around the Employers’ position? Perhaps by creating a scandal in one place, the real issue is overlooked as outrage is focused on the false narrative. There is clear mischievous and malicious intent.
It is true that the Employers’ Group changed its position during the negotiations of this Convention. What is less well understood is why we changed our views.
Initially, the Employers’ Group supported an inclusive language providing equal protection to all without listing specific vulnerable groups. We believed that listing specific groups ran the risk of limiting protection, leaving out future vulnerable populations or overlooking existing ones not mentioned. For this reason, the Employers did not support ILO’s proposed text to the Convention that included a list of vulnerable groups.
However, the Employers’ Group had to reconsider its position when certain Governments explicitly requested the deletion of the list of vulnerable groups stating their intention to deny LGBTI people equal protection. Employers unequivocally requested that the list of vulnerable groups remain in the text to ensure equal protection for all groups, including the LGBTI community.
As Employers, we firmly support the principle that all individuals should be protected from violence and harassment, including LGBTI people. To secure the support of the Employers’ Group, any ILO instrument on violence and harassment should build on this principle.
We, the IOE, have decided to make our position clear: Discrimination is discrimination.
We categorically refute efforts to distort our position as we work to ensure that new ILO standards include protection for all, including for LGBTI+.
If the world is serious about creating a culture of inclusion and non-discrimination, where employees and employers are valued and respected, then diversity must be embraced, including in the workplace.