Using C190 to support the struggle against homophobic and transphobic violence in the world of work


Using C190 to support the struggle against homophobic and transphobic violence in the world of work

ILO Convention 190 (C190) highlights the importance of collective bargaining in preventing and addressing violence and harassment at work. C190 also emphasises the importance of addressing violence against all workers, including marginalised workers.

Amid severe economic crises, LGBTQ+  people face high rates of unemployment and poverty and prejudices and discrimination that put them at an increased risk or threat of harm. The issue of safety in the world of work is important to LGBTQ+ workers and job seekers.

Trade unions have the mandate to protect and advance the right to equality for workers who are LGBTQ+. To be effective, the union needs to be representative and inclusive. Inclusion is about tackling different forms of discrimination that intersect with each other, for example, being black, a woman and lesbian. Inclusion is about considering the needs of all members when organising and bargaining. We can enforce workers’ legal rights and rights earned through ratifying international conventions by our government, such as C190. By developing our understanding of the experiences and issues of workers, the possibility for equity bargaining emerges.

Creating safe spaces for trade union and community dialogues

LGBTQ+ workers and job seekers experienced increased harassment and violence during the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of Covid-19 varied across sectors, with massive job losses and erosion of workers’ rights and benefits seen in hospitality, care work and informal trading sectors. We do not have statistics on how many LGBTQ+ people are employed in these sectors. But anecdotal evidence suggests that LGBTQ+ workers are disproportionately represented in precarious sectors that saw the most harm due. LGBTQ+ workers’ rights risked erosion in negotiations, as unions faced immense pressure to defend the broader gains won over the years.

The Labour Research Service envisions the elimination of discrimination and violence against all workers. To help keep LGBTQ+ rights and issues on the union agenda, we have connected unionists and workers and young job seekers who are LGBTQ+. Our series of online and face-to-face dialogues gave voice and resources to the participants – union leaders, LGBTQ+ workers and job seekers, and community activists – looking at the role of C190 in supporting the right to a safe and secure world of work.

What have we learned about the challenges facing LGBTIQ+ young people entering the world of work?

A breakdown in family relationships, feelings of rejection and a general lack of support at the home impact the self-esteem and mental health of LGBTQ+ young people. The experience of rejection and lack of support from home, combined with discrimination, bullying and violence in the school and community, puts young LGBTQ+ people at a  disadvantage when seeking work.

Six things youth and activists think would help end discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ job seekers and workers:

The LRS dialogue provided a safe space for storytelling and learning for Letsema (our collective impact initiative for addressing GBV in the Vaal in Gauteng Province) and trade union activists. Part of Letsema’s work involves responding to homophobic violence and discrimination. The LGBTQ+ youth shared their experiences with discrimination and learned the supportive role of unions in securing and advancing workers’ rights.

VIDEO | LGBTQ+ young people tell what would make them feel safe in the world of work

LGBTQ+ youth have strong views on what would make them feel safe from violence and harassment as they seek employment. The young people in the video are 18-26 years old, and most have completed matric. A few plan to study in 2023, while others are looking for jobs.

Reforming our workers’ organisations

C190 also applies to employers to ensure safe workplaces. As an employer, unions ‘must take steps to ensure that their organisations and operations are free from violence and harassment, in line with C190 and R206, including through risk assessments, workplace policies, training, information and awareness-raising’.

Ending violence and harassment in the world of work requires an "inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach, which tackles underlying causes and risk factors, including gender stereotypes, multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, and unequal gender-based power relations."

FEDUSA’s resolution on Gender Equality has a focus on C190 and reaffirms that:

 2) Violence and harassment are incompatible with any notion of decent work. It affects people’s ability to obtain work and stay in work, as well as their physical and mental wellbeing. It affects workplace culture, dignity at work and productivity. It is, therefore, a key issue for trade unions to organise around.

And Resolves:

14) Violence and harassment, in line with C190 and R206, are included in collective bargaining agreements

23) Develops a standalone C190 policy and standards inclusive of penalties for non-compliance.

The federation’s LGBTI rights resolution highlights the importance of recognising the forms of discrimination throughout the employment cycle: Because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex workers experience discrimination in the labour market throughout the employment cycle. (pg32).

The LRS dialogue connected the unions to their work on LGBTQ+ rights in the world of work. Union leaders and activists got to engage first-hand with young LGBTQ+ people, providing a better understanding of the experiences and expectations of young LGBTIQ+ people in the world of work. The unionists are also more sensitive to the potential role of protecting broader layers of young people, including job seekers.

The Congress Resolution on Youth has no specific focus on jobseekers, C190 or LGBTQ+ rights, while the LGBTQ+ resolution has no focus on Youth

Youth Resolution notes and believes:

3) Like elsewhere, young workers in the country face challenges that are unique to them, and therefore it is imperative to establish a youth desk as a sub-structure of the federation to create a platform in which young members can engage in robust debates on critical issues that affect young workers’ lives and social wellbeing

It resolves:

2) FEDUSA and its affiliates should mainstream youth issues into their policies and programmes to create a safe space and opportunities to empower young workers and to give recognition, visibility, and credibility to the youth contributions

VIDEO | Experience of LGBTQ+ workers in the workplace

Tumelo Mokoena (32) works at Transnet and is a member of UNTU and FEDUSA’s Youth Committee. Tumelo speaks about the progressive workplace policies that have helped to bring a positive experience of being an LGBTQ+ worker at the workplace and the union. The story challenges the negative stereotype that unions are not interested in anything beyond increasing the salaries of their members.

Key union actions for ensuring safe organisations

  • Conduct a risk assessment (Article 9 of C190) and identify risks and hazards for violence and harassment, particularly those that “arise from discrimination, abuse of power relations, and gender, cultural and social norms that support violence and harassment” (Para 8c of R206).
  • Implement policies on violence and harassment (Article 9a of C190, and Para. 7 of R206).
  • Provide information and training on risks and hazards, internal policies, and how to recognise, respond to and advise members about violence and harassment.
  • Mainstream gender and C190 provisions into the union bargaining agenda.
  • Integrate a gender-responsive approach in all structures, policies, procedures and activities.
  • Amend constitutions to have quotas, targets, or parity to improve the representation of women and other vulnerable groups in structures and to ensure that GBVH perspectives stay on the bargaining agenda.
  • Build the capacity of women to guarantee full participation.

The experience of a retired lesbian worker in the retail sector.

Sanna Patricia (49) worked for over two decades at Edcon. Her story illustrates the importance of family support and acceptance and bringing your whole self to the workplace.

“The support of my family gave me the confidence and strength to go out in the world…I was out and visible at work, and many co-workers did not understand LGBTI+ people. Some people thought I had demonic possession and that lesbianism is contagious. But I did not compromise my identity to fit in. Eventually, they got used to me.”~ Sanna Patricia

“The company was inclusive and did not discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation. For example, my medical aid cover included my partner and I got compassionate leave when she fell ill.” ~ Sanna Patricia

Finding a support system at work: My experience as a lesbian worker in the retail sector

Convention and code:

Highlights of C190 and the Code of good practice on the prevention and elimination of harassment in the world of work

ILO Convention 190

  1. It is the first time that the right to a world of work free from violence and harassment has been recognised in an international treaty.
  2. It clearly shows that violence and harassment are not part of the job.
  3. It provides the first internationally agreed, single definition of violence and harassment, which sets the base for trade unions to fight against violence and harassment.
  4. It provides a clear, inclusive, and integrated framework to promote action to achieve change.
  5. It covers the world of work, not just the workplace.
  6. It acknowledges the changing nature of the world of work, and so should stand the test of time.
  7. It recognises the negative role played by unequal power relations between men and women, as well as other social norms that support violence and harassment, and encourages everyone to take a gender-responsive approach.
  8. It recognises that domestic violence is an issue in the world of work and that measures can be taken at work to mitigate its impact.

Code of good practice on the prevention and elimination of harassment in the world of work

  • The Employment Equity Act is one of the Acts that are relevant to the implementation of South Africa’s obligations to C190. The Code forms part of the Employment Equity Act.
  • The Code identifies harassment as including physical abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.
  • The Code identifies all forms of harassment against women, men and LGBTQIA+ and vulnerable persons as an abuse of power.
  • The Code identifies the steps employers must take to eliminate harassment including developing and implementing policies, procedures and practices that will lead to the creation of workplaces free of harassment.

How employers can create diverse and inclusive workplaces that are free from violence and harassment

  • Adopt a harassment policy that takes cognisance of and is guided by the Code.
  • Develop clear procedures to deal with harassment including an obligation to investigate any report of an alleged incident of harassment.
  • Ensure that confidentiality is kept in all cases.
  • Grant additional sick leave for trauma counselling if the worker’s sick leave has been exhausted.
  • Conduct education on sexual harassment and other forms of harassment


This work is made possible through the support of The Other Foundation and the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations.

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