Germany: Initiatives by ver.di to support LGBTI workers

The United Services Trade Union (ver.di) in Germany supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) workers through a specialised online forum for its LGBTI members and a gay working group. The latter has researched discrimination against HIV-positive employees and lobbied on behalf of LGBTI workers (in Catholic institutions) who have reported discrimination by their employers.

According to the Anti-Discrimination Law (AGG), which came into force in August 2006, discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion and age is forbidden in Germany. Contrary to expectations, however, data from the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth show that the gender pay gap stayed at 23% (PDF) during the year following the introduction of this legislation.

ver.di campaigning against inequality

The United Services Trade Union (ver.di) is one of the largest German trade unions and has its headquarters in Berlin. Its focus is on service workers in both the private and public sectors within Germany.

In 2007, ver.di became a prominent advocate of increasing wages in female-dominated sectors as a way of strategically fighting inequality in the German labour market. This was not surprising: one of ver.di’s primary goals is securing proper working conditions and working for social justice; moreover more than 52% of ver.di’s over two million members are women.

When it comes to the issue of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or intersex (LGBTI) workers in Germany and the association with women’s rights in general, academic research found that, in Munich, lesbian women had a 12% lower probability of being invited for a job interview than heterosexual women. In addition, survey data from the European Fundamental Rights Agency show that LGBTI workers experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace in every EU Member State (the lowest proportion being 5% and the highest 31%).

An important objective of ver.di’s campaigning is to influence legal and political decisions affecting LGBTI people in the labour market. ver.di has also sought to create a gay-friendly environment suitable for empowering workers who have non-cisgender/non-heterosexual identities. This represents an opportunity for the union to reaffirm its goal of supporting basic human rights, solidarity, justice and equality.

Advocating rights of LGBTI workers

Christopher Street Day 2015

As part of activities in Berlin for Christopher Street Day 2015, ver.di’s gay working group presented its Activity Report 2015 based on research data and workers’ experiences. These experiences show that HIV-positive employees are often discriminated against in the workplace. The report’s release was accompanied by the distribution of flyers on the issue to representatives of the capital’s municipalities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government institutions. While carrying out this advocacy action, volunteers in the working group simultaneously collected donations for work on HIV prevention and on raising awareness of the status of HIV-positive workers.

This type of action is possible and often successful in Berlin where local government and NGOs work to promote diversity and the equality of different lifestyles. It is exemplified by ver.di’s online information service, which is well-established within LGBTI networks in Germany and supported by German political parties and private associations. LGBTI members can use the online service to exchange information related to their gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans/intersex worker status and to reflect on any unfair treatment in the workplace.

Carsten Bock, spokesperson for ver.di’s gay working group, said that its successful initiative during Christopher Street Day 2015 proves that the trade unions in Germany are committed to gay and lesbian issues. Based on the political demand of acceptance of sexual diversity at work, this initiative also seeks to tackle the long-standing and controversial problem faced by LGBTI employees in German churches. Although the principle of non-discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation is legally binding according to the General Act on Equal Treatment enacted in 2006, many churches in Germany refuse to apply the law. ‘Recently we had the case of a lesbian nursery school director who worked for a Catholic institution and who got fired after her employer learned about her sexual orientation’, says Carsten Bock. In order to oppose such discrimination, ver.di puts its human rights advocacy into practice by reporting cases and demanding the implementation of measures by German authorities to cease discrimination by employers in the German labour market.

Berlin state elections, September 2016

ver.di aims to involve its members in union policymaking via members’ assemblies, collective bargaining committees and company-specific groups. It also seeks to embody in its decision-making the principles it advocates in the labour market – equality, justice and fairness. For example, ver.di is preparing for the 18th Berlin state elections by inviting political speakers and asking them about their proposals, suggestions and solutions for combating discrimination against LGBTI persons in the workplace.

Commentary

ver.di puts particular emphasis on diversity by having occupational and specialist groups in 13 different sectors. In this way it seeks to build on the huge potential to involve various occupations in Germany and include members from many industries and various backgrounds whose diverse perspectives might be beneficial for future advocacy for the rights of LGBTI workers.

It remains to be seen whether the labour market situation for LGBTI employees will improve in the future, especially in terms of creating the legislative mechanism at state level to reduce the gender pay gap, which has been tackled only in terms of voluntary commitment and employers’ evaluations.

 

 

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