Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends,
Let me first of all thank the ILO for organizing this event to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. A day in which we seek to raise awareness and highlight an important issue within the world of work.
This year’s theme is “Mental health and wellbeing”, and as I am sure everyone here agrees, feeling included and accepted in the work place significantly affects our day-to-day wellbeing.
It is at the core of the ILO’s values and mandate to promote equality and non-discrimination in every workplace and for every worker, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or disability. The enabling of constructive dialogue between government and employers and workers’ organizations certainly plays a critical role in achieving this.
There has undoubtedly been some progress in recognizing the human rights – including labour rights – of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex persons in recent years. Yet, the overall picture remains one of continuing, pervasive abuse, harassment, discrimination and exclusion of LGBTI people in all regions of the world.
Norway has committed to “work consistently and with a long-term perspective to promote the protection of LGBTI people, and ensure that they can enjoy the same rights as everyone else”.
We are proud to cooperate with the ILO on the PRIDE-initiative – Promoting Rights, Diversity and Equality in the World of Work. Through research on discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender workers, the project aims to identify challenges and highlight good practices that promote rights, diversity and tolerance in workplaces.
Knowledge and data are vital to make progress. The first ‘living condition survey’ of LGBT persons in Norway, in 1999, revealed the cost of discrimination for the individual, the family and for society. It resulted in a White Paper to the Parliament, with a range of recommendations on how to promote the dignity and quality of life of LGBT people in Norway. These included measures to promote positive attitudes to diversity, as well as greater openness, in the workplace. In 2016, the Norwegian Government will launch a new cross-ministerial action plan to strengthen LGBTI rights, including a recommendation that all larger employers should have a plan for equality, inclusion and diversity.
It is of interest to note that interviews with labour unions, employer organizations and the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authorities, and indeed the ILO’s own research, all show that openness about sexual orientation has a demonstrated, positive impact on daily work life. Conversely, non-disclosure is reported as a “drain on energy”.
In the world of work, discrimination, exclusion and harassment is commonplace for many LGBTI people. This increases stress levels and deteriorates productivity to the extent that many stay away from formal employment all together.
In addition to all the other arguments, there is in fact a business case for inclusion. Diversity ensures that businesses maximize their potential by employing the best talents available, it can drive innovation, and appeal to additional markets. Additionally, an open and including work place benefits all workers, and in turn their health and productivity.
As a supplement to the PRIDE initiative, the ILO has undertaken an internal survey. It shows that even here, where a majority (90 per cent) of workers report that they are comfortable with the idea of working with an LGBT colleague or supervisor, only 19 per cent of LGBT respondents reported that they are open to everyone about their sexual orientation. This confirms that an overall positive attitude is not sufficient; diversity must be actively communicated and promoted.
Before closing, I would like to take the opportunity to especially thank Nigel Owens for being here today and standing out as a global role model and an inspiration to so many others.
Norway urges all states to step up their efforts in recognizing human rights for LGBTI people. We welcome the country reports presented by the ILO today, and look forward to continued collaboration to create a tolerant and truly inclusive world of work for all.