Report: ETF Women’s Mid-Term Conference and Committee meeting, Bucharest, 12-13 April

  • The opening address stressed the importance of women workers organising in a male-dominated industry and the context of women’s struggles in a time of austerity and terrorism.
  • There was a minute’s silence for the victims of terror attacks.
  • ATU (Romanian union federation) President expressed his support for women’s representation in trade unions, describing this as a hard-fought battle that was yet to be fully won.
  • Summary of ETF Women’s work over last few years: training, campaigns, organising women transport workers.
  • In the open discussion on this issue, points raised by delegates included:
    • “Every one of us has suffered abuse during our careers as transport workers. But employers don’t act.”  
    • Italian unions are investigating violence against workers in all transport sectors, including specific violence against women; the Italian union won agreement from the largest rail employer for a code against sexual harassment in the collective bargaining agreement, and is now trying to get other employers to agree the same.           
    • Airline cabin crew: trade unions raising raises issue of social media harassment/stalking of women workers by passengers.
    • A Hungarian delegate spoke of the employers’ inadequacy in addressing the harassment of women workers; the government has not ratified the international convention on workplace violence.
    • I raised issues of: unions’ slowness to act on women members’ calls for campaigning action; outcry causing BTP to backtrack on plans to scrap sexual violence unit; violence against migrant women workers eg. Tube cleaners.
  • Posters were on display, designed by trade unionists in various European countries on the theme Violence Against Women Transport Workers – It’s Not Part of the Job (pictured).
  • Jodi Evans of the International Transport workers’ Federation (ITF) gave a presentation on the ITF’s campaigning against violence against women. This is a well-thought-out campaign with excellent resources and potentially big impact, noticeably better than many bureaucratic union campaigns. The ITF is hosting a seminar on the issue in Bali in May.
  • ETF women plan to continue and step up campaigning on this issue, including: drafting a template policy; developing a training module; and conducting an online survey. It is important to turn these plans into action!


  • The women’s health and safety at work training module is ready for launch, and will be continuously improved on the basis of experience in using it.
  • I raised the issue of workers refusing to do unsafe/unhealthy work, stressing that taking this action can achieve results faster than just talking.
ETF Women have developed a training pack, which:
  • is modular; you can use the parts you want to use
  • includes sections on gender discrimination, organising women, collective bargaining, health and safety
  • can be used in informal settings by rank-and-file women workers, not just in classrooms with professional trainers.
A representative of the ETF gave a presentation on Fair Transport Europe campaign:
  • This campaign raises a set of demands which will advance workers’ rights and public transport; they are quite moderate, and drafted in the language of ‘fair competition’, but are worthy of support.
  • This is an European Citizens Initiative (ECI). If it gets one million signatures by September, it will be considered for EU action.
  • People can find out more and sign it here.
  • The purpose is not just the collection of signatures but active campaigning and mobilisation. Many unions have organised events, protests, roadshows etc.
  • I talked with Bucharest Metro women trade unionists, and have written a brief article here.
  • I talked with a Romanian trade union leader, who wants to work with RMT to support Romanian truckers driving in the UK.
  • The next four-yearly ETF conference and ETF Women’s Conference will take place in Barcelona in 2017. Unions are urged to send a proportionate number of women delegates.
  • There was a thorough, workshop-based discussion on priority areas for ETF Women for 2017-2020. Three groups identified proposals. The one I was in proposed work on: violence against women; quality jobs for women (job security, equal pay, effect of new technology, etc); and women’s leadership. The Committee will consider all the groups’ feedback and draw up a proposal to go to next year’s conference.
  • Brussels airport workers held a wildcat strike / mass sickie during the time when the conference was taking place. Belgian trade unionists told me that the dispute is as much about safety fears following the 22 March attacks as about the employers’ attempt to increase the retirement age.
  • We elected Brigitte Pass (FNV, Netherlands) to the vacant seat representing women on the ETF Executive.
  • ETF inland waterways section has been running a campaign to unionise river cruise workers – organising last week on the Danube.        

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