Social partners discuss equality bargaining

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During summer 2001, the Portuguese social partners held a number of seminars to discuss the issue of including gender equality matters in collective bargaining. Notably, attempts were made to outline new bargaining strategies to eliminate wage inequality between men and women.

In June 2001, a seminar entitled 'Equal pay in the 21st Century' was organised jointly by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the General Workers' Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT) and the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP), in order to promote the integration of the theme of equal opportunities for women and men as a topic in collective bargaining (PT0107158F). The initiative was one of many forums that have taken place recently to discuss and reflect on the issue of gender-based wage disparities, which are of considerable concern in Portugal. According to the seminar participants, a number of measures are required to address the problem.

Persistent discrimination

Although several forms of discrimination in employment are present in Portugal, one of the most persistent and hardest to eradicate has been wage discrimination based on gender. Women in the Portuguese labour market continue to experience:

  • horizontal and vertical segregation, which means that women tend to be recruited in sectors and jobs demanding lower qualifications and bringing lower wages. As an example, in the traditionally low-wage textiles and hotel sectors, women make up 72% and 60% of the workforce respectively;
  • under-representation in those sectors offering higher average wages, such as the petrol industry (where only 10% of employees are women) and utilities such as electricity, gas and water (where only 16% of employees are women);
  • little equality with regard to access to management positions. For example, only 2% of women in employment occupy supervisory positions, compared with 5.3% for men. Only 3.2% of all female employees are executive staff, while the figure for male employees is 5.7%;
  • a greater likelihood of having fixed-term contracts and being subjected to precarious forms of employment; and
  • wage disparities - women receive only 72.3% men's average earnings. In addition, the basic pay of women, on average, is only 76.5% of that of men.

In this context, trade unions have called for a number of measures such as:

  • negotiations between unions and enterprises on wage-setting criteria that are more impartial and objective;
  • the reclassification of job functions in order to bring them into line with today's reality and eliminate discrimination;
  • stepping up inspections and monitoring to ensure equal opportunities for women and men and stamp out wage discrimination; and
  • guaranteeing that a wide range of accurate, up-to-date statistics on gender aspects of pay are produced and published in order to aid decision-makers both in government and among the social partners
  • the rules that are negotiated will be better suited to the reality of each enterprise and sector than those found in the law, which are at times too general;
  • the obligation periodically to review collective agreements will allow the social partners to deal with matters related to equal pay for men and women; and
  • mechanisms put in place to accompany the agreements will allow trade unions constantly to monitor the status of the equal pay issue. With this objective in mind, an observatory for equal opportunity in collective bargaining has been set up by the unions.

Social partners' views

The social partners were given an opportunity to state their overall positions on gender inequalities during a recent international meeting on equal employment and vocational training opportunities for women and men, organised by the Economic and Social Council (Concelho Económico e Social, CES) and the Commission for Equality in Work and Employment (Comissão para a Igualdade no Trabalho e no Emprego, CITE).

According to the Portuguese Confederation of Industry (Confederação da Indústria Portuguesa, CIP), gender inequality is rooted in the culture, and the lack of relevant infrastructure and education. Dealing with the issue does not lie within the direct sphere of influence of enterprises, being an issue for society as a whole. As such, it is not legitimate to ask enterprises to take upon themselves a task that is the responsibility of the state.

The Portuguese Confederation of Commerce (Confederação do Comércio e Serviços de Portugal, CCP) believes that the core issue in any policy that deals with gender inequality is to create infrastructures that will permit people to reconcile the demands of their work and family lives.

According to CGTP, the positive developments that have taken place in this area have not eliminated the problems of gender discrimination. Serious disparities still exist in wages, access to professional success, vocational training and promotion. According to a CGTP spokesperson, the problem is rooted in cultural prejudices, recruitment practices and discriminatory treatment by employers which view child-bearing and -rearing as a stumbling block to profits and competitiveness. The CGTP national coordinator also pointed out that there is an urgent need for mechanisms that monitor and punish those that break the law in this area.

The general secretary of UGT highlighted both negative and positive aspects of the situation. In the first category, he stated that Portugal is one of the EU countries with the largest gender wage gaps, while women's access to positions of greater responsibility is lower than the European average. On the positive side, the number of women who work outside the home in Portugal is higher than the European average, while a significantly large number of women have attained higher positions at Portuguese universities.

Commentary

These recent initiatives underline the need for much more debate on equal pay and on the gender equality issues that should be dealt with in collective bargaining. Impartial and objective criteria for fair treatment have to be found so that standards can be set and negotiations on the issue can be constructively dealt with by public and private employers. (Ana Almeida, UAL)

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