GDF Suez signs Europe-wide agreement on gender equality

In June 2012, GDF Suez, the France-based energy and utilities multinational, signed a European agreement on equality between women and men with three European-level trade union federations. The company hopes the groundbreaking agreement will make a significant contribution to ensuring equal pay for work of equal value for men and women at every level of the company, increase the proportion of women on permanent contracts, and give all workers a better work–life balance.

Background

Based in France, GDF Suez is an electricity, gas and energy environmental services group with 219,000 employees worldwide, around 191,000 of them in Europe. It was created in 2008 by the merger of GDF and Suez (FR0808029I).

For the decade before the merger, Suez had a history of negotiating transnational company agreements (TCAs), some with global scope and some limited to Europe, with its European Works Council (EWC) and with European and French trade union organisations. These included agreements on health and safety, training, profit-sharing, employment and skills management, and equality and diversity (EU0709049I). GDF also signed TCAs with its EWC and European unions on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and on guarantees for employees following the merger with Suez.

Since the merger, transnational negotiating activity has continued at GDF Suez. The group reached a worldwide agreement on fundamental rights, social dialogue and sustainable development with global union federations in 2010 (EU1101011I). In the same year, it signed two accords with European-level union organisations and a special negotiation group of national union representatives. These accords deal with health and safety – this agreement having worldwide scope – and a Europe-wide employment and expertise plan. The deals essentially adapt earlier agreements at Suez.

New agreement

In late 2010, GDF Suez proposed talks over a Europe-wide agreement on gender equality. Negotiations led to a draft agreement in February 2012, which was then ratified by national unions and signed formally on 5 June 2012. The employee-side signatories were:

  • the newly formed EU-level trade union industriAll (EU1205071I);
  • the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU);
  • CEC European Managers (CEC);
  • the members of the special negotiation group.

In a press release on 8 June 2012, GDF Suez announced the signing of a European agreement with social partners on professional equality for women and men (595Kb PDF) that aims to ‘define the conditions enabling unjustified differences, where they exist, to be reduced and removed’. The aim is to achieve equal opportunities and pay equality between women and men, and a better work-life balance for all. The agreement, which is unusually detailed and concrete compared with many TCAs, sets out various principles, commitments and objectives that apply across GDF Suez’s European operations.

While many wide-ranging TCAs on CSR and workers’ rights include equality matters, specific TCAs on equality are rare. The few other examples include agreements at energy company Areva (EU0701039I), Danone, Total (FR0904049Q) and UniCredit.

Key points of agreement

The GDF Suez gender equality agreement provides for a range of specific measures and actions, principally aimed at:

  • changing thinking and behaviour, notably through social dialogue;
  • providing information for employees, managers, employee representatives and trade union organisations;
  • guaranteeing equal opportunities in recruitment, equality in career progression and equal access to vocational training;
  • encouraging women’s networking and mentoring, and better representation of women among employee and union representatives;
  • identifying and rectifying gender pay inequalities, and ensuring pay equality;
  • improving work–life balance for all employees;
  • preventing sexual harassment.

The agreement’s concrete objectives include ensuring that, by 2016, women make up at least:

  • 30% of employees recruited on open-ended contracts (women currently make up 19% of the GDF Suez workforce);
  • 25% of all executives with open-ended contracts.

The agreement requires the introduction of equality action plans at the level of individual GDF Suez group companies with more than 150 employees, and it says union and employee representatives must be consulted on these. The plans will cover the issues and objectives set out in the European agreement and must be jointly reviewed each year on the basis of a set of indicators contained in the agreement.

A European-level commission, made up of the signatories, will review application of the agreement annually on the basis of an agreed set of equality indicators.

The agreement states that its provisions must not be used as a means of lowering existing statutory or agreed gender equality standards.

Reaction

GDF Suez said the aim of the agreement is to ‘make equality a reality by promoting equal opportunities and equal treatment in order to encourage diversity at every level of the company’. It added that the accord consolidates GDF Suez’s ‘commitments as a benchmark employer’, and emphasises its ‘innovative and socially-responsible approach’.

EPSU’s Deputy General Secretary, Jan Willem Goudriaan, said:

We expect that this agreement will contribute to ensuring equal pay for work of equal value for the men and women working in the company as well as bringing about a better balance in professional and family life. The focus now shifts to the implementation at local level. We expect a high commitment by local management to improve the situation for workers so that the company lives up to its goal to be an employer of reference.

Mark Carley, SPIRE Associates

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