Gender equality issues examined

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In Romania, gender equality has strong traditions, but these have been affected by the economic downturn of recent years. It is mainly at national level that gender policies relating to employment are established - through legislation, special plans or collective bargaining - and monitored. Company equality plans have not emerged so far. There is still a major gap between policy and practice, with women earning less, concentrated in low-paid sectors and under-represented in management. This article reviews the situation in late 2003.

The establishment of a legislative framework for gender equality in Romania is still emerging, though many important steps have already been taken. The revised 2003 Constitution (like its predecessor) guarantees equal opportunities for men and women. Romania has ratified various relevant International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions, these being: No. 3 on maternity protection (1919); No. 89 on women's night work (1948); No. 100 on equal remuneration (1951); No. 105 on abolition of forced labour (1957); No. 111 on discrimination in employment and occupation (1958); No. 117 on social policy (basic aims and standards) (1962); No. 122 on employment policy (1964); No. 156 on workers with family responsibilities (1981); and No. 183 revising the earlier Convention on maternity protection (2002). It has also ratified the 1979 United Nations Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. Finally, Romania has signed but has not yet ratified Additional Protocol No. 12 to the Council of Europe's European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which prohibits discrimination on any grounds.

The new Labour Code introduced in March 2003 (RO0308102N) prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination, although no specific reference is made to gender-based discrimination. It also stipulates important provisions regarding equal opportunities, equal treatment on labour market (in employment, continuing vocational training, career building, and working conditions). The Labour Code also provides some positive discrimination for women - ie special measures for women’s protection at the workplace in particular conditions, such as pregnancy etc.

A special law on equal opportunities for women and men has been introduced (Law no. 202 of April 2002), initiated by the Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family (Ministerul Muncii, Solidaritatii Sociale si Familiei, MMSSF). The main provisions are: equal pay for equal value of work; measures on employees’ protection against dismissal in cases where a gender discrimination complaint is made; and employers’ responsibility to inform employees about legal provisions in this area.

A National Action Plan for Equal Opportunities has been put in force (by Government Decision no. 1273/2000). Its main objectives are: general support for and enforcement of the gender equality principle; and an increase in women's participation in economic and social life. It also includes actions to provide equal access to active measures on labour market, support women's employment in sectors with low female participation rates and introduce special programmes for (re)training and continuing vocational training. Similar provisions are laid down in the 2001-4 government programme, the October 2002 Joint Assessment Paper (with the European Commission) on employment priorities, the National Strategy for Employment and the National Action Plan for Employment.

Institutional framework for gender issues

The institutional framework for promoting equal opportunities functions mainly at the national level and is based on permanent cooperation between:

  • the National Council for Combating Discrimination (Consiliul National pentru Combaterea Discriminarii, CNCD) set up by Government Decision No. 1194/2001, under the aegis of the government;
  • MMSSF, through its Department for Equal Opportunities for Men and Women;
  • the Inter-Ministerial Consultative Commission in the field of equal opportunities for men and women (established in 1999 to promote the gender dimension in employment strategies);
  • the Economic and Social Council (Consiliul Economic si Social, CES) through one of its specialised commissions, the Commission for Equal Opportunities for Men and Women. In this body, social partners debate legislative proposals and draft laws that address gender issues;
  • the Parliamentary Commission for EU Integration, through its special Subcommission for Equal Opportunities;
  • the social partners; and
  • non-governmental organisations.

Social partners and gender equality initiatives

The negotiation of the tripartite 'single national collective agreement', which provides a minimum basic framework for employment conditions, is the major occasion for tripartite dialogue to address gender issues, although these do not usually take the form of a special chapter, but are integrated into the normally negotiated topics, such as wages or working time. The provisions recommend non-discriminatory attitudes at the workplace but with no obligation to develop special action plans.

At the company level, the collective agreement is now an active instrument for promoting gender equality and for incorporating an equality perspective into company policies. So far, no particular initiatives regarding gender equality plans at the company level can be identified.

Content of gender equality policies at the workplace

Gender equality policies at the workplace are mainly generated at the national level, via the single national collective agreement, which stipulates women’s protection at the workplace in many respects, including the following.

  • Working time. The employer must permit women to continue in their previous job after the statutory two years of parental leave. Where women do not take parental leave, they may benefit from reduced working time (by up to two hours a day) or may request flexible working without any negative effects on their basic wages and seniority. Where their children are younger than six years' old and there is no kindergarten available, mothers may work half time, but this is considered full-time work for the purpose of calculating seniority.
  • Working conditions. Starting from the fifth month of pregnancy, women may not work during the night or be forced to work overtime, to travel for work purposes or to change their workplace without their consent. In companies with more than 50 employees, if women make up more than 20% of the workforce, the company health and safety committee must include at least one woman.
  • Payment system and other financial rights. Equal payment is guaranteed for workers with the same educational background and position. The employer must make up for at least five weeks the difference between the basic wage of women on maternity leave and the legal allowance for such leave.
  • Employment policies. In the event of workforce reductions, women may be made redundant only as a last resort if they have children or have less than three years until retirement.
  • Work environment. There are some provisions regarding the discouragement of sexual harassment at the workplace.

At sector/company level, collective agreements may introduce further gender equity measures, without reducing the minimum conditions set up above. Until now, no specific regulations have been introduced to support special equality plans at the company level, and no studies have been conducted on the issue, though gender-related studies have frequently been carried out by research institutes.

Commentary

In Romania, equal treatment and equal opportunities for women and men have been guaranteed by legislation for a long time and, especially in the 1980s, progress was made in increasing women's participation in economic and social life. However, in the context of recent economic restructuring and downturn, even though norms on women’s protection at the workplace have been strengthened, only few women have had the courage to make use of all legal provisions.

Women’s wages are, on the average, 20% lower than men’s, but this is only in part due to directly unfair treatment, as women more often work in low-paid sectors (agriculture, light industry, services and trade etc). Nevertheless, bargaining over individual employment contracts and the 'wage confidentiality' principle favour lower basic wages for women, whose access to additional wage incentives is also narrower.

Women are poorly represented at management level (making up around a quarter of managers) and their careers progress more slowly. Only 0.6% of the female labour force are employers and about 16% are self-employed.

The main challenge for Romania in gender issues is bridging the gap between policy and practice. As stated in the European Commission's 2003 Regular Report on Romania’s progress towards accession, 'further actions are needed to translate into action the principle of equal treatment between women and men as regards access to employment'. It is noted that among the EU acceding and candidate countries, 'Romania is the first to have a functioning equality body', the CNCD. While some steps have been taken to implement the National Action Plan for Equal Opportunities, overall progress has been limited. The setting up of a National Agency for Equal Opportunities between Women and Men is at a preparatory stage and should be completed in 2005. (Valentina Vasile, Institute of National Economy)

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