ETF Women’s Committee reports, campaigns and plans


  • France – Women trade unionists have been concentrating on increasing women’s involvement in the unions, and on campaigning against violence against women. At Gare du Nord railway station, African women cleaners are often sexually assaulted by male bosses. Some men say that it does not matter, that women are making it up, or that they ‘have a chip on their shoulder’.
  • Italy – There is very good legislation on women’s rights – for example on maternity – but the economic and cultural situation means that women are still disadvantaged. Italy has the lowest rate of women’s employment in Europe, and needs investment in public services and industries to create jobs for women. As the government cuts welfare services, it relies on women to act as unpaid carers.
  • Belgium – In the Port of Antwerp, an agreement has been signed by the union and the employer regarding women’s employment on the docks. This emphasises equal recruitment policies rather than quotas. But the employers need challenging to ensure that they abide by the agreement.
  • Netherlands – Some men – even some union men – say that women who work on the docks are taking men’s jobs. And they say that if you do a ‘man’s job’ then you must go along with ‘men’s humour’ ie. sexist banter. As a minority, women are abused, whether through ‘jokes’ or touching. The solution is not new laws but the enforcement of existing laws, but the Inspectorate is understaffed.  Migrant women workers are taken on in jobs with only a few hours work, and then told that they must give sexual favours to get more work. Women are not confident to complain about abuse, so the union is using organisers from other countries to speak to women in their own language.
  • UK – I reported on the ScotRail victory and ongoing fight to defend guards’ jobs; the abuse of women cleaners; the impact of ticket office closures and de-staffing of stations.
  • Many countries – A recurring theme in reports from the various countries is that European Union legislation is useful, but that it needs to be monitored and implemented, with sanctions against companies that do not abide by gender equality policies. Employers find ways around legislation, so legislation is not enough.



We have finally – or very nearly finally – completed the women’s health and safety project, the main component of which is a training module that can be used across Europe. The original draft had been far too academic in tone; the new draft is much better: it is accessible and quite user-friendly, and involves training in campaigning and the role of trade unions, not just on becoming a health and safety expert! I have submitted proposals for further improvements to the module, including an exercise on refusing to work on the grounds of health and safety. There will be two versions of the training: one for rank-and-file workers; the other, more advanced, for union representatives and officers.

The training can be used in either a formal, classroom setting, or in less formal contexts such as a meet-up in a cafe after work. This module adds to training resources produced previously by the committee, and I would like to see our trade unions make more use of these. The ETF Women’s Committee has prioritised training resources as they can be used across all countries while being adaptable to local conditions and priorities. Training empowers women and builds grass-roots activism.



As I have reported previously, campaigning on this issue has been hampered by lack of funding, but I have pushed for the committee to be active on it nonetheless, and this may soon bear fruit! The committee will launch an online survey of women transport workers’ experiences of violence on 25 November, collect responses until February, then publish the results at the ETF Women’s Conference in May. We finalised the questions at this week’s meeting, and if enough women fill in the survey, it can be a very effective campaigning tool. Unions can encourage women members to participate by sending out the online link via email, text and social media, and can also use the print version in face-to-face discussions on workplace visits.

The committee continues to promote the posters opposing violence against women transport workers which were submitted by women workers a couple of years ago.

ETF women have also been involved in the European TUC’s initiative, ‘Safe at Home, Safe at Work’, which tackles both workplace violence and the impact of domestic violence at work. This campaign will hold a concluding conference in Madrid on 24 and 25 November.

Trade unionists have been campaigning for several years for the International Labour Organisation to adopt a Convention against Violence in the Workplace for several years. There has been progress on this recently, as the ILO has scheduled a debate about it for 2018. There is still a fight to be won!

Looking forwards, the ETF Women’s Committee has at last received funding to develop a training module on violence against women. This is happening through Education for Valuable Employment (EVE), and will involve four events training women to run training sessions, each aimed at a different transport sector – passenger transport; ships and waterways; freight and roads; hubs eg. ports – and taking place in Bulgaria, the Netherlands, the UK and France.



Following the mid-term ETF Women’s Conference held in Bucharest in April and attended by 80-90 women, the committee is now drawing up a proposed workplan for the next four-year term, 2017-2021. Campaigning against violence will be a priority, as will demanding equal and secure employment for women. Delegates also raised issues about women’s leadership and the effects of digitisation. I stressed the need to include migrant women workers. We also need to address sexist prejudices and the continuing under-representation of women in the transport workforce. Various suggestions were made for slogans and campaign ideas. I rather like IT’S NOT A MAN’S JOB, IT’S MY JOB – and I demand equality and freedom from violence.

The committee expressed a strong desire to use social media and the internet more effectively, including by opening up resources for committee members to circulate information and reports. 

The 2017-2021 workplan will be adopted (hopefully!) at the ETF Women’s Conference on 23 May 2017 in Barcelona. As this is just a short conference (four and a half hours), debate and amendment will take place over the next few months so that changes can be incorporated in advance. 

The conference will consist of:

  • report on the 2013-2017 workplan
  • adoption of 2017-2021 workplan
  • election of new Women’s Committee
  • (while votes are being counted) video presentations on the achievements of women trade unionists
  • guest speakers

The new Committee will consist of:

  •  a woman representative from each of the industrial sections – rail, urban public transport, maritime, inland waterways, civil aviation, road transport, logistics, docks
  • 14 members elected at the conference (with a geographical spread desirable)
  • one representative of young women

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