ETF Women's Committee, March 2014: section and country reports
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The ETF Women's Committee meeting on 19-20 March 2014 heard the following reports: SECTION REPORTS Civil aviation Unions are campaigning for a non-punitive reporting system, and demanding consistency of workplace rules across all grades, from cabin crew (female-dominated) to pilots (male-dominated). Dock/Ports

  • Working in ports is very ‘women-unfriendly’. The unions are raising two main issues: the recruitment of women to port jobs; and improving working conditions for women.
  • Women in the ETF Ports section are seeking EU funding for a project similar to the bullying and harassment video produced by the Shipping section.
  • The ITF dockers section has a new publication, 'The changing face of dockers - men and women working together', which can be ordered and/or downloaded here.

Railway The ETF Railway section carried out a Women In Rail project in in 2011/12, providing information on women railway workers which is still very useful in campaigning for higher rates of employment and better working conditions for women railway workers.

Road transport The Section is addressing the working conditions of women truck drivers. One problem it is encountering is that when unions raise the issue of women (and youth), employers make positive noises, but try to avoid addressing the actual working conditions that deter women drivers eg. drivers being expected to sleep in their cabs for weeks on end.

Shipping The Section is campaigning to eliminate sexual assault and harassment on board vessels. It has been involved in producing a video which seeks to raise awareness of and challenge harassment and bullying. The Committee watched this video and thought it a powerful tool in tackling bullying and harassment. I think it has a couple of flaws – it encourages workers to report harassment and bullying but does not show them approaching union reps to help them do so; and it refers to young women workers as ‘girls’, which does not help engender respect and thus undermine bullying! However, it is well worth a watch, here.

COUNTRY REPORTS

Bulgaria In Sofia, the union has signed an agreement with the Mayor for better working conditions in the (municipally-owned) urban transport.

Croatia

  • 10% unemployment, with the majority being women.
  • Increase in temporary working contracts – 90% of workers with temporary contracts are women.
  • The economic crisis is being used as an excuse for new laws attacking working women’s rights.
  • The women’s Committee member from Croatia said “The government is Social Democrat, but it is neither social nor democratic.” It is very neoliberal, but of course, the right wing is just as bad.
  • The latest attacks are aimed at destroying public services such as healthcare; and attacking the rights of trade unions.
  • There is extensive child poverty and hunger due to lack of welfare benefits.
  • A proposed new labour law was defeated by a mass strike (when workers took action in solidarity with private sector employees who were striking against non-payment of wages).
  • Maternity rights improved following Croatia joining the EU.

Germany

  • Women workers are concentrated in ‘mini jobs’ – casualised employment in sectors such as cleaning and security, paying only 400-450 euros per month.
  • Unions are campaigning for provisions on work-life balance: for example, post-maternity healthcare, adjustments to shift working etc.

Hungary

  • One of the main issues being addressed is violence against women. An MP has has been accused of domestic violence against his partner.
  • There has been a rise in assaults on buses – especially against ticket inspectors – and some racist blaming of gypsies.
  • Attacks on women workers’ rights including allowing new mothers only 30 days sick leave.
  • There is no right to strike.

Norway

  • In the recent election, the right wing party won.
  • There are many attacks on working-class women, including: stopping nursery provision and child benefit for under-2s; increase in temporary working contracts; reduction in access to abortion.

Spain

  • Trade unions are being attacked under the pretext of ‘reform’, with cuts in collective bargaining.
  • Employers are sacking workers, then re-hiring them as ‘self-employed’.
  • The government is cutting care for children and elderly people.
  • New measures under Spain’s equality law – such as equality plans – have been stopped.
  • The government is also proposing an anti-abortion Bill, which will set women’s rights back by 40 years and impact on health workers. As the Women’s Committee member from Spain said, ‘We have a law which allows women to control our own bodies, but this law would allow priests and doctors to take control over our bodies.’ ETUC information here
  • EU Directives have been ineffective in tackling inequality because national governments delay ratifying them or do not comply with them, so women workers can not legally enforce their rights.

Sweden

  • Unions are tackling the issue of violence against women, including through training union reps.
  • There is a General Election in September, in which unions will be raising workers’ – including women workers’ – demands. (See also my report on the Public Hearing on Work-Life Balance at the European Parliament.)

United Kingdom I reported on:

  • RMT women’s conference: its attendance, speakers, discussion on women’s under-representation in the union, and the five resolutions that were passed.
  • London Underground / TfL’s proposed cuts, the particular impact on women, and the Equality strand of the current talks. A Committee member commented that Hungarian railways are pursuing similar policies. She emphasised that the closure of ticket offices has a particularly bad impact in smaller towns in poorer areas, where people rely more on the ability to pay fares in cash rather than online.

COMMON THEMES Several issues across various sections and countries:

  • Governments and employers are using the economic crisis as a pretext to halt progress towards gender equality and even to turn it back.
  • 'Casualisation' - use of short-term, zero-hour and similar contracts - is having an appalling effect on workers across Europe, and a particular effect on women.
  • Gender stereotyping and segregation, bullying and harassment are widespread, and remain important issues for women (and men) workers across all sectors.
  • Abortion rights are under attack in several countries.

There are resources available to tackle issues of gender discrimination and stereotyping in transport: RMT should make more use of them. We should also strengthen links between our own women activists and those in other European countries.