Conference highlights equal opportunities

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A meeting organised in July 1999 by the Economic and Social Council and the Commission for Equality in Employment and in the Workplace provided an opportunity to assess the progress of equal opportunities for women and men in Portugal. Various initiatives have been taken under the Global Plan for equality, and the National Action Plan for employment incorporates equality measures. However, considerable occupational and pay discrimination persists.

A colloquium on the theme of "equality between men and women in employment and vocational training" was organised in July 1999 by the tripartite Economic and Social Council (Conselho Económico e Social) and the Commission for Equality in Employment and in the Workplace(Comissão para a Igualdade no Trabalho e no Emprego). The social partners were represented at the event, which aimed to call attention to:

  • the need to redefine work and the social division of labour;
  • the use of public policy in the pursuit of gender equality;
  • the role of European Community law and collective bargaining regarding working conditions; and
  • some aspects of the Portuguese situation.

Equal opportunities and public policy

There has been a government-approved "Global Plan" for equal opportunities in place in Portugal since 1997. The Plan put into motion a set of measures to promote equal opportunities in employment. An appraisal of the results so far was presented at the July colloquium, with measures under three of the Plan's objectives being of particular relevance here:

  • objective 1 - integration of equal opportunities and gender awareness in all economic, social and cultural policies, with the aim of applying the principle of "mainstreaming";
  • objective 3 - promotion of equal opportunities in employment and in industrial relations; and
  • objective 4 - reconciliation of professional and family life.

Relevant measures and actions that have been undertaken so far include the following:

  • the relationship between the Commission for Equality in Employment and in the Workplace and the Inspectorate-General of Labour (Inspecção Geral do Trabalho) has been strengthened in order to make application of the laws relating to equality of opportunity in employment and vocational training (Decree-Law 392/79 of 20 September 1979 and Decree-Law 426/88 of 18 November 1988) more coherent and efficient. Labour inspectors have been educated on equality law;
  • information campaigns and a study of living conditions have been undertaken to assure that safety and health norms are observed when workers are working in their homes or other establishments;
  • incentives have been provided for companies to adopt positive measures. There has been a 20% increase in subsidies for creating jobs for women, creating openings for women in new professional areas or areas where women are underrepresented, and for promoting vocational training for women;
  • entrepreneurial activity on the part of women has been fostered through (1) the creation of an office for support for women's entrepreneurship in the Ministry of the Economy and (2) active job creation measures such as the programmes on "local initiatives for job creation" (Iniciativas Locais de Emprego, ILE)," preservation of cultural heritage" (Conservação de Património Cultural, CPC), "support for the creation of self-employment" (Apoio à Criação de Próprio Emprego, ACPE) and "creation of self-employment by the unemployed" (Criação de próprio Emprego por Desempregados, CPE). These programmes provide subsidies of 20% of the capital for ventures where 50% or more of the capital is held by women; and
  • encouragement of positive action measures in collective bargaining, with the social partners having made a commitment in the 1996-9 tripartite Strategic Concertation Pact (PT9808190F) to renew the content of agreements on this point. An "observatory" is being set up at the Office of the High Commissioner for Equality and the Family (Gabinete da Alta Comissária para a Igualdade e a Família) to take on the development of this theme

Sex discrimination in Portugal

The colloquium also acted as a forum for presenting data on the current state of the "gender gap" in employment. Some of the key data are presented below.

Occupational discrimination

In Portugal, some occupations and activities are significantly marked by gender discrimination. Examples include:

  • a preponderance of men in occupations such as train drivers (100% men), drivers of road vehicles (97.2%) and construction workers (97.8%);
  • a preponderance of women in occupations such as clothes-makers and embroiderers (91.9% women), childcare providers (91.7%), primary school teachers (80.9%), and cleaning service workers (75.7%);
  • a high concentration of female workers in five sectors, which account for 59% of all women workers, including textiles (16%)," non-classified" activities (12%), commerce (11%), and education (9%); and
  • an under-representation of women in management positions.

The incorporation of the goal of equal opportunities between men and women in the Portuguese National Action Plan for employment, in response to the EU Employment Guidelines, should bring some advances in this area (PT9904137F).

Discrimination in pay and job classification

Studies of employment trends and perspectives for women and of wage-setting practices show that there is discrimination in Portuguese companies between men and women with regard to job classification. Even with the same basic training or education and in jobs of equal value, organisational and institutional behaviour is a determining factor in attributing different salaries and assigning different job categories to men and women. The salary gap has been widening - between 1984 and 1994 it increased more than threefold in nominal terms.

Changes are taking place, however. Women in Portugal now represent about 50% of the working population, while the number of women obtaining university degrees and postgraduate degrees is, in many fields, higher than the number of men. This leads commentators to think that opportunities for women in the scientific, technical and liberal professions should increase. In general, it looks like most of the increase in employment opportunities will be in the service sector, which has a high proportion of women workers (see As tendências do emprego em Portugal nos anos 90, Margarida Chagas Lopes).

The role of collective bargaining

In the past few years the content of collective agreements has not been particularly innovative in Portugal with regard to equal opportunities (PT9801159F), and 1999 has been no exception, despite the commitment made by the social partners in the Strategic Concertation Pact. Although it makes few references to Portugal, a study that was presented at the colloquium by Professor Brian Bercusson on the role of collective bargaining in equal opportunities makes the point that collective bargaining can promote equality of opportunity, just as equal opportunities can simultaneously intensify collective bargaining by increasing the variety of topics for negotiation (TN9704201S).


There were a significant number of speakers and other participants from the legal and public administration spheres at the July meeting. This indicates the organisers' concern to draw the attention of public policy decision-makers to the need to implement more active policies and programmes to "internalise gender equality", although Portugal is still far from "mainstreaming". Also attending the meeting were the trade unions, whose confederations have institutional structures in place that are dedicated to women's issues, as well as employers' organisations. It falls to these social partners, as the principal players in the world of work, to assume a fundamental role in changing the way that gender is viewed in the workplace, and in changing social practices in this area. (Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)

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