Debate in the Chamber of Deputies on women and employment

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Following a public hearing in which the chambers representing employers' and employees' professional interests (Chambres Professionnelles) took an active part, a recent debate in Luxembourg's Chamber of Deputies suggested measures that the Government might adopt to promote equality between men and women. The debate identified a number of interesting statistics on women's employment.

Women on the Luxembourg labour market

In Luxembourg, as in all other Member States of the European Union, increasing numbers of women are taking up paid employment. In the early 1960s, women's participation rate in the labour force stood at 22%; today, the European average is approximately 45%. However, at about 38%, the activity rate of women in Luxembourg is still below the EU average.

Women's paid work is still characterised as having low levels of skills and productivity, and as being irregular, and less well paid and less valued than work performed by men. Moreover, it is often seen as temporary work, with custom and general practice decreeing that women should stop work at the birth of a child and concern themselves with family and domestic tasks.

The situation of women on the labour market was reviewed at a public hearing in the Chamber of Deputies on 6 March 1997. Figures provided by the Centre for the Study of Populations, Poverty and Socio-Economic Policies (Centre d'Etudes des Populations, de la Pauvreté et des Politiques Socio-économiques, CEPS) indicate that, between 1987 and October 1996, women secured 43.9% of all new jobs.

Today, 42% of women who have completed their education and are aged under 66 are in paid employment, although the figure falls substantially according to their age; this downswing is closely linked to the family situation of the women concerned. Women's activity rate has changed, and the make-up of the female workforce has altered as well. The number of women of foreign nationality working in Luxembourg has risen from 10% of the paid workforce in 1987 to 26.3% at the present time.

Differences between the sexes are very marked on the labour market, and they are reflected in the segregation of men and women in different types of job. An analysis of the structure of the Luxembourg labour market shows that women are in a majority in the tertiary sector (mainly health, the social sector, education, catering and services provided to enterprises) where they have about half of all jobs; however, they are in a minority in the agricultural and industrial sectors.

Almost nine out of 10 women work in services. The survey conducted for the Chamber of White-Collar Employees (Chambre des Employés) into women's work shows that, although women enjoy the same education as men, for the most part they continue to perform typically "women's jobs".

They are also concentrated in activities in the tertiary sector where pay is low and career prospects are limited. Women are in a majority among unskilled blue-collar workers (64%), shop assistants and providers of personal social services (60%) and office staff (55%), but they are in a minority among company managers (28%) and in the intellectual and scientific professions (34%). The dossier produced by the Chamber of Trades (Chambre des Métiers) for the public hearing shows that no more than 8.8% of managers in craft enterprises are women.

This concentration in a small number of sectors and in modestly paid jobs partly flows from the vocational guidance given to young women to take up "women's" occupations and professions: their preferences are for office jobs (eg as secretaries, typists or switchboard operators), where in 1989 they made up 76.7% of all apprentices, hairdressing (87.9%) and sales (76.7%).

The same picture emerges in respect of apprentices enrolled with the Chamber of Trades in 1996, of whom young women account for no more than 30.11%. They are in a majority in the "fashion and personal hygiene" sector (88.41%), but form a striking minority in the "mechanical services and goods" sector (3.01%) and in "finishing trades" in the building industry (0.23%). The same goes for qualifications entitling the holder to exercise a trade (diplômes de maîtrise), of which only 14% are obtained by women.

During 1996, according to figures produced by the Chamber of Labour (Chambre du Travail), 103,078 people held the status of blue-collar worker (ouvrier), and 30,523 (or 29.61%) of these were women. These statistics underline apprenticeship inequality; enrolments for maîtrisequalifications show quite clearly that women's participation is in decline, with figures falling away slightly from 14% in 1996 to 12.98% in January 1997. Female apprenticeships in the industrial sector are almost non-existent, with just one woman in a total of 89 apprentices; by contrast, out of 27 apprentices in hotels and catering, 11 are women.

The Chamber of Deputies Special Commission's proposals

Given these figures, the Chamber of Deputies' Special Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men is urging the Government to step up its efforts to guide young women towards the study of scientific and technical subjects. The Commission is convinced that these fields offer a large number of openings that could well provide the basis for the establishment of new enterprises; they are also less exposed to labour market fluctuations.

The Commission also believes that a broad-based awareness campaign needs to be aimed at young people and employers, and calls on the Government to carry out positive actions aimed at encouraging companies to recruit and train women in scientific and technical occupations and professions. In particular, these incentives could take the form of tax reductions and the payment of subsidies.

The Government should also encourage young men to give consideration to "typically women's" occupations and professions.

Lastly, the Commission urges the social partners to make it possible for women to enter all economic fields, and to carry out their responsibilities with regard to the promotion of equal opportunities between women and men.

Commentary

Even when women have the opportunity to find out about vocational training and, like young men, benefit from it, they generally are concentrated in "female" specialisations. One may therefore, in common with most of the social partners involved, conclude that vocational guidance which is more diversified and better adapted to market needs presupposes a change in mentality, and that this change in mentality must take place in the minds of both men and women. Efforts to encourage young women to move into typically "male" sectors and occupations must be sustained and even intensified. (Marc Feyereisen, ITM)

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