Trade unions address equal opportunities

In late 2003, the Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic (KOZ SR) launched a major project aimed at developing gender equality in trade unions. The project focuses on issues such as giving equality issues a higher priority within unions and in collective bargaining, and increasing women's representation at all levels of trade union structures. This article reviews the project's progress, as of summer 2004.

The fourth congress of the Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic (Konfederácia odborových zväzov Slovenskej republiky, KOZ SR) (SK0208102F) in 2000 highlighted the role of trade unions in the implementation of gender equality, and the confederation has since developed activities in this area. The KOZ SR women's committee contributed significantly to the preparation of a project entitled 'equal opportunities policy for women and men in trade unions', which has been implemented over 2002-4, as outlined below.

In June 2003, the women's committee was transformed into the equal opportunities commission for women and men, which functions as an advisory body for KOZ SR. This commission consists of 28 representatives of sectoral trade unions (only one union is represented by a man). According to KOZ SR, the commission's activities are directed towards implementing gender equal opportunities, improving legislation to eliminate gender discrimination and initiating new legal provisions in this area. Another aim is the gradual integration of the needs and priorities of women and men in employment to enforce gender equality while taking into consideration gender differences and particular interests. The commission endeavours to promote equal opportunities in trade union activities, including collective bargaining.

Project implementation

First stage

To support implementation of the 'equal opportunities policy for women and men in trade unions' project the KOZ SR equal opportunities commission organised a working meeting at the confederation's head office on 14 October 2003. Representatives of KOZ SR, the Federation of Employers' Associations (Asociácia zamestnávatelských zväzov a združení Slovenskej republiky, AZZZ SR), the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (Ministerstvo práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny Slovenskej republiky, MPSVR SR), the National Labour Inspectorate (Národný inšpektorát práce, NIP) and from academia participated. Discussion centred on implementation of the government's 'concept on equal opportunities for women and men' (SK0209102F) in the workplace. The meeting is considered a good example of an active approach taken by the social partners and government representatives to implement the relevant laws and other provisions in the area of gender equality in the Slovak Republic.

A review of the activities of the participating institutions presented at the meeting found that, although the majority of tasks embodied in the project had been fulfilled it was necessary for KOZ SR representatives at all levels, as well as sectoral trade union organisations, to give the issue continued attention. The Ministry representatives reported to the meeting on current implementation of the 'concept on equal opportunities for women and men' and presented a package of measures. According to the Ministry, the trade unions should reach agreement with the employers on measures aimed at protecting employees from direct or indirect discrimination and include these provisions in collective agreements. On the basis of the Ministry presentation, the KOZ SR commission decided to hold a seminar on equal opportunities implementation in employment at which possible measures aimed at improving the situation would be discussed in detail.

The NIP representative reported on labour inspectorate findings on gender equality in wages. It is difficult to find evidence of direct discrimination here, although statistics confirm that on average women's wages are almost 30% lower than men's. The gender wage gap is marked, in respect not only of educational level but also of job position. In future, the labour inspectorate will focus on particular occupations in order to obtain a wider sample with which to assess the real situation. It is also seen as beneficial to raise the issue in the mass media, especially TV and radio.

AZZZ SR representatives also spoke at the meeting and reported on their own measures aimed at promoting equal opportunities in employment and wages.

Meeting participants expressed their appreciation of the opportunity to share experiences and present the measures they had taken in the area of gender equality. They also highlighted the need for more effective exchange of information and views. The meeting participants adopted a common proposal for measures aimed at effective implementation of gender equality through collective bargaining. They agreed to try to include the following in collective agreements:

  • concrete provisions aimed at eliminating gender discrimination (eg removing wage inequality, reducing horizontal and vertical segregation in the labour market and better work-life balance); and
  • positive action programmes (eg increased women's representation in managerial positions, enforcement of a gender perspective in personnel management work).

Second stage

Implementation of the equal opportunities project continued with a seminar on 'implementation of equal opportunities for women and men at work', organised by the KOZ SR equal opportunities commission. The seminar took place on 27 April 2004 at KOZ SR headquarters. The aim of the seminar was to contribute to improving women's position at work, including the implementation of equal opportunities in collective bargaining. Almost 60 people took part in the seminar, mainly trade unionists (representatives of sectoral trade unions, trade union regional councils, local trade union organisations and experts responsible for collective bargaining). The commission chair gave the welcome speech and opened the seminar. The vice-president of KOZ SR also attended the seminar, alongside representatives of the Department of Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination and the Department of Labour Relations and Social Protection of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. Keynote presentations were given on the following topics: equal opportunities at work; quality in work; trade unions and employers at work; government support for social partners aimed at equality implementation in collective agreements; and 'family-friendly' employers.

Strong support for effective implementation of gender equality at work was expressed during the debates. The vice chair of the Chemicals Industry Trade Union (Odborový zväz Chémia SR) called for a better information flow regarding examples of good practice of equal opportunities in the workplace both abroad and in the Slovak Republic. The KOZ SR vice-president appreciated the interest shown by the participants and on behalf of KOZ SR expressed full support for future activities to be organised within the framework of the project.

Upcoming activities

During the next stage of project implementation, the KOZ SR equal opportunities commission intends to concentrate on a campaign to achieve 30% female representation and at least 10% youth representation in KOZ SR executive and management bodies. The goal is to promote the gender equality principle in trade union activities and at all levels of collective bargaining. This initiative is, to a certain extent, binding in nature, which should help in implementing the commission’s recommendations during KOZ SR's fifth congress in November 2004. The KOZ SR assembly held on 10 December 2003 recommended that the sectoral trade unions nominate at least 30% women and 10% young people as delegates for the forthcoming congress. In order to achieve this goal, the KOZ SR equal opportunities commission launched an information campaign and is planning a conference of female delegates in October 2004. The aim of the campaign is to convince women who are nominated as congress delegates to vote for women candidates for top trade union posts and so to fulfil the recommendation of the KOZ SR assembly.


According to trade union representatives, he 'equal opportunities policy for women and men in trade unions' project has so far fulfilled its aim: to better acquaint trade union representatives and experts with the topic of equal opportunities for women and men at work. Alongside implementation of gender equality through collective bargaining, it is necessary to utilise more effective tools in resolving problems affecting the practical application of gender equality. The development of company action plans seems a useful tool for this purpose. KOZ SR representatives expect the confederation's forthcoming congress to constitute a good starting point. In this connection, the KOZ SR equal opportunities commission has suggested that promotion and support of women in respect of active participation in trade union activities be made part of the KOZ SR programme for 2004-8. In concrete terms, this would mean at least 30% women's representation at all levels of trade unions. It is expected that higher women's representation in the trade unions would also contribute to the effective implementation of gender equality in employment. (Ludovít Cziria and Margita Barošová, Bratislava Centre for Work and Family Studies)

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