Opposition to draft bill on gender equality

The Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisations (CEOE) is opposed to the draft bill on gender equality, which proposes to make it compulsory to introduce equality plans in collective bargaining and to establish parity on boards of directors of companies. It put forward an amendment to the bill which has resulted in the Ministry of Labour modifying the parity requirement.

On 26 April 2006, the draft bill on gender equality proposed by the socialist government was submitted to the Economic and Social Council (Consejo Económico y Social, CES). The bill was approved in a two-to-one majority by the CES, with the inclusion of an amendment presented by the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisations (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales, CEOE).

Issue of parity on boards of directors

A CES report on the draft bill approves of the introduction of 10 days’ paternity leave, but suggests that the exemption from parity in the electoral lists of municipalities with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants should be reconsidered. The central issue in the debate on the Gender Equality Law was the requirement of parity on the boards of directors of companies. CEOE presented an amendment on this point that was approved by a one-vote difference. As a result, contrary to the draft bill presented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales, MTAS), parity will not be an obligation for boards of directors.

The CES has 60 members, 20 of whom represent trade unions and make up Group I. Group II of the CES comprises 20 employer representatives, while Group III consists of 20 representatives from the fishing sector, cooperatives, consumers and six experts appointed by the national government. Group II, led by CEOE, is opposed to the Gender Equality Law, at least in the manner in which it is currently expressed in the draft bill.

The draft bill, approved by the Council of Ministers on 3 March, states that, within four years, companies’ boards of directors must have a representation of no more than 60% of either sex. This is far from the current reality in the business world. Only 2.3% of the members on the boards of directors of companies listed in Ibex 35 are women. Ibex 35 is the official index of the Spanish Continuous Market, listing its 35 most liquid stocks. In an effort to tackle this considerable gender gap, in cases where two companies tender for a contract under public procurement rules, the draft bill favours the proposal which gives evidence of greater gender equality.

CEOE amendment to proposal

The CEOE amendment to the draft bill, which was presented to the CES, supports the idea of modifying the application of the regulations in public administration and in the national law enforcement services. Furthermore, the employers argue that companies are governed by specific business laws and have a system of proportional representation according to participation in the share capital. Companies are governed by criteria of suitability and efficiency. Therefore, CEOE believes that the requirement of quotas of representation laid down in the draft bill on gender equality is incompatible with the legal regulations and criteria of companies.

Although only 15 representatives of CEOE were present at the meeting, its amendment was approved, with the support of CES Group III. Despite this partial success, CEOE rejected the CES report on the bill because the employer group opposes the forced negotiation of equality plans in collective bargaining.

Conclusion

The Ministry of Labour responded to the CES report and its rejection by CEOE by modifying the draft bill on gender equality. On 18 May, the ministry recommended giving companies more time to achieve parity on their boards of directors, as a voluntary initiative for which incentives will be provided.

Antonio Martín Artiles, QUIT-UAB

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