Navigation path

Trade Unions

Different - equality diversity © European Union, Lucian Enasoni

Trade Unions primary role in combating discrimination

Legislation on anti-discrimination should be backed up by policy programmes. These could help design and implement positive actions to allow all citizens, in particular vulnerable groups, to live in a society that is free from discrimination and promotes equality.

To be effective, such policies require full involvement of all actors, including national authorities, NGOs, trade unions, and employers' associations.

These actors are called upon to cooperate with each other in order to identify problems and set up initiatives able to cope with all social, economic, and cultural dimensions of non-discrimination and equality.

Trade Unions involvement

Trade unions play a primary role in fighting against discrimination through a variety of actions and tools, such as:

  • negotiating with employers to ensure that discrimination in the workplace is eliminated and that equal opportunities are promoted;
  • supporting victims of discrimination;
  • monitoring, documenting and denouncing discrimination at the workplace.

Discrimination still permeates all dimensions of employment from recruitment procedures to remuneration and career progression, which is particularly true in times of economic downturn.

Trade unions at EU, national, sectoral or enterprise level have been carrying out many initiatives to combat discrimination and/or promote diversity by:

  • commissioning research;
  • organising awareness raising events and conferences;
  • mobilising members or developing instruments, such as diversity toolkits.

EU Initiatives

At EU level, important initiatives have been jointly undertaken by trade unions with NGOs to raise awareness about, and contribute to fighting discrimination and promoting equality. The Spring Alliance Manifesto also includes actions aimed at combating discrimination and racism, guaranteeing gender equality and respect for migrants' rights.

The 2009 Joint Declaration - Fight discrimination and guarantee equality for allpdf [133 KB] , signed by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the Social Platform called for developing partnerships between trade unions and civil society organisations.

European Commission actions

The European Commission has been promoting social dialogue activities or using existing funding programmes to develop among others new training schemes, including targeting trade unions as one of the audiences (e.g. EQUAL or the Community Action Programme against discrimination, including the 'For Diversity. Against Discrimination' information campaign).

The Commission launched the study on "Trade Union practices on anti-discrimination and diversity", (summary) which provides a structured mapping of the most significant and/or innovative initiatives taken by trade unions, to combat discrimination and promote diversity.

The 130 initiatives classified as being particularly innovative or of particular significance cover all areas of discrimination, including challenging issues, such as discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

They concern:

  • training;
  • working with employers;
  • adapting trade union structures;
  • cooperating with NGOs.

For the first time a wide overview is available, of current trade union practices on non-discrimination and equality in the workplace, covering many countries. The results of the study may represent a very good basis for further useful initiatives, i.e.

  • awareness raising and training projects;
  • cooperation with other players (employers, NGOs);
  • exchange of good practices between national trade union organisations.