Gay and lesbian workers gained a powerful supporter last week, with the Australian Council of Trade Unions voting to defend their rights.

The 900 delegates at last week’s ACTU Congress voted in favour of unions adopting a strong policy protecting GLBTI workers from discrimination. None of the congress delegates spoke against the policy.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) NSW president Ruth Pollard said the vote acknowledged discrimination against gay and lesbian workers was a core industrial issue for unions.

Obviously many unions around Australia have been working on gay and lesbian issues for many years now, but it’s significant that Australia’s peak union body has made such a strong statement on it, Pollard said.

Federal MEAA president Patti Amphlett moved for the adoption of the policy, which was seconded by NSW Labor Council secretary John Robertson. Robertson also spoke in favour of a public campaign for equal superannuation rights for same-sex couples.

Robertson told the congress it was time for trade unions to stand up and address the issue of equal superannuation for everyone.

I think I only heard one voice in the whole hall vote against it, which is not bad considering the make-up of the audience, he told the Star.

But this is an equity issue -“ and that’s the point I made -“ which is a fundamental principle of the trade union movement. It’s very difficult to run ’round campaigning for pay equity for women and those sorts of issues and then say, well, if you happen to be gay, lesbian, transgender or intersex, bad luck. You either believe in equity and apply it to the fullest, or you don’t.

Robertson said the challenge would be getting something done about equal super rights, by putting pressure on the state and federal governments.

The congress endorsed the resolution of last year’s Workers Out conference held during the Gay Games, which was attended by union delegates from a range of industries. The Workers Out conference resolution required unions to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

In the 1999 report by the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Australian Centre for Lesbian and Gay Research entitled The Pink Ceiling Is Too High, 59 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual workers and 80 percent of transgender workers surveyed had experienced harassment or discrimination in their working lives. Workplace discrimination took many forms -“ from verbal and physical attacks to more basic, but insidious things, Pollard said.

Like getting passed over for a promotion or getting rostered on for really bad shifts, because your family doesn’t count because it’s not a heterosexual family model.

The Pink Ceiling report also found many of the respondents were unwilling to take their complaints to their unions because they believed the unions had little understanding of, or interest in, gay and lesbian workers.

Lobby co-convenor Somali Cerise said the ACTU’s stance could encourage gay and lesbian workers to seek out their unions for support.

Hopefully this is going to work towards dispelling the myth that most unions are just tough boys clubs, Cerise said.

Obviously the union movement taking a stand like this is indicative of the fact that they’re basically opening their arms to being part of the fight for gay and lesbian equality.

Cerise said the Rights Lobby regularly received calls from workers who had faced discrimination because of their sexuality.

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