Experts urge action on LGBTI workplace discrimination in Thailand

04-Feb-2016

Participants at the meeting. Photo credit: UNDP Thailand/2016/Suparnee Pongruengphant.

Bangkok, Thailand — Employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people is a prevalent but silent issue in Thailand, said experts at a national level meeting to discuss issues related to discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression (SOGIE) or intersex status.

The meeting, organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) under the Being LGBTI in Asia programme, brought together 25 representatives from government agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector, media and leading experts on human rights and LGBTI issues. Representatives were given the opportunity to hear about real life cases of discrimination, discuss current key issues and challenges related to workplace discrimination of LGBTI people, and review good practices of LGBTI-inclusive workplaces. The meeting produced a set of recommendations that identified entry points for further advocacy efforts and policy work.

“In the workplace, discrimination towards LGBTI people is common,” said Nikorn Arthit from Bangkok Rainbow Organization, a civil society group working on LGBTI issues. “It often involves verbal abuse and can have significant harmful effects towards mental health and well-being as well as job performance. When such abuse is reported to Human Resources, it is often not taken seriously because it is seen as a personal matter.”

The national meeting forms a regional study on LGBTI employment discrimination to be published later this year, as well as builds on a series of ‘Executive Dialogues’ on the business case for LGBTI diversity and inclusion organized jointly with The Economist Events and ILO. UNDP and Being LGBTI in Asia are also supporting a global dialogue organized by The Economist Events, titled Pride and Prejudice, on 3 March 2016.

“Ensuring that LGBTI people are not excluded or marginalized in society is key to Thailand achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Suparnee Pongruengphant, National Project Officer, UNDP Thailand. “Discrimination must be addressed to ensure that LGBTI people can reach their full potential as productive members of society. This is only possible when there is equal access to social services such as education, employment and health.”

Discussions at the meeting revealed common patterns of discrimination against LGBTI people in government, private and informal workplaces. Participants noted in particular the prevalence of verbal abuse from colleagues. In addition, it was noted that when discrimination in the workplace occurred there were a lack of mechanisms in place to handle complaints. Consequently, some LGBTI people felt compelled to resign from their jobs due to the stressful working environment. Such occurrences have driven many LGBTI people to leave regular office environments and turn to freelance work, which carries disadvantages such as difficulties in seeking financial assistance, loans, pensions and lack of access to health care insurance and other benefits.

The meeting featured a session on sharing best practices towards diverse and inclusive workplaces. One example cited was Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA-Law), a national LGBTI civil society organization which provides legal assistance to LGBTI people who want to report employment discrimination. TEA-Law provides consultation services and supports their clients by facilitating the submission of supporting documents required to register a complaint against relevant organizations to the National Human Rights Commission.

Another initiative highlighted as a national best practice was a collaboration between Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand (RSAT), a national civil society organization, and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to develop a referral system for filing employment discrimination complaints. In this case, RSAT serves as an outlet for LGBTI people to share employment-related rights violations.

Recognizing the critical role of the private sector, a case study was shared from the private sector network HR Variety, which has implemented a programme to train human resource department personnel from the private sector on the new Gender Equality Act 2015. Topics within the training include preventing employment discrimination during the recruitment process.

“The Gender Equality Act was recently enforced in late 2015 and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, as the responsible government agency enforcing the Act, is actively promoting the law,” said Kannika Charoenluk, Chief of Secretariat of the Committee on Unfair Gender Discrimination Complaints Group, Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. “We are happy to engage with civil society partners and the private sector in raising awareness about the provisions of the Gender Equality Act to better apply in employment procedures and promote more inclusive and diverse workplaces in Thailand.”

The Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development will collaborate with the private sector and civil society organizations to develop a booklet which provides a simple and concise explanation of the definition of LGBTI, and includes case studies of LGBTI people facing discrimination in the workplace. The development of the booklet will be completed through a writing committee with representatives from LGBTI civil society organizations, the private sector and other government bodies, such as the Ministry of Labour. Subsequently, the booklet will be used to raise awareness of LGBTI discrimination in the workplace, stimulate engagement on a wider scale and inform future employment policies.

Being LGBTI in Asia is a regional initiative implemented by UNDP, with funding from the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok and USAID. The programme is aimed at reducing marginalization and exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. Initiated in 2012, the programme promotes universal access to health and social services and addresses inequality, violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. For more information, visit: http://www.asia-pacific.undp.org/content/rbap/en/home/operations/projects/overview/being-lgbt-in-asia/.