New equal opportunities initiatives emerge from social dialogue

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Since 1998, the issue of equal opportunities for women and men has played a growing part in the social dialogue and the activities of the social partners in Portugal. Here we examine a number of recent initiatives arising from the National Action Plan for employment - an observatory on equal opportunities in collective bargaining and an equality award for companies - and funded through EU programmes - projects on the integration of equal opportunities in the social dialogue and on the female labour market.

Equality of opportunities for women and men has been an increasingly prominent issue in Portugal in recent years (PT9908154F). The Institute for the Improvement and Inspection of Working Conditions (Instituto para o Desenvolvimento e Inspecção das Condições de Trabalho, IDICT), which is part of the Ministry of Labour and Solidarity (Ministério do Trabalho e da Solidariedade) has always put special emphasis on working with the Commission for Equality in Employment and in the Workplace (Comissão para a Igualdade no Trabalho e no Emprego, CITE) and other public and private institutions, in order to promote a more balanced participation of men and women in the world of work (PT9908154F). Below, we examine a number of recent initiatives in the equal opportunities field, involving the participation of the social partners.

Observatory for equal opportunity in collective bargaining

The Platform of Action approved by the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September 1995, raised the idea of setting up bodies focusing on equality in collective agreements, detecting and preventing direct and indirect discrimination, encouraging positive action, enlightening negotiators and contributing toward a new business culture.

In Portugal, this idea was translated into an "observatory for equality of opportunity in collective bargaining" (Observatório para a Igualdade de Oportunidades na Contratação Colectiva), created under the auspices of the 1998 National Action Plan (NAP) for employment, based on the EU Employment Guidelines, as a tripartite entity supported by specialists. Having launched its activities as part of CITE in May 1998, the observatory was bolstered by work that had been done for the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions as part of its research on equal opportunity in collective bargaining in the European Union.""

Since its creation, the observatory has been an innovative body, pursuing an objective that has won the consensus of both the government and the social partners and providing suggestions that may significantly help in improving the quality of social dialogue. Although concrete results in global terms are not visible yet, an increasing desire can be noted among the social partners to do away with situations of discrimination, not only in strict legal terms but also by implementing innovations in collective bargaining. A prime example of this is a 1999 collective agreement for private hospitals, which devotes an entire chapter to equal opportunities (PT9912177F). It is evident that a number of issues have been raised, not the least of which involve problems of a cultural nature which cannot be changed from one day to the next, and economic problems that hamper solutions for promoting equality in sectors where the workers' average collectively agreed pay is little more than the statutory national minimum wage, such as the textiles and garment sectors (PT0002181N). Under the auspices of the new observatory, teams from the Centre for Investigation of the Portuguese Economy (Centro de Investigação sobre a Economia Portuguesa, CISEP) and the Research Centre for Social Intervention (Centro de Estudos para a Intervenção Social, CESIS), carried out a study in October 1999 that analysed developments over the past decade in sectors such as textiles, garments, footwear and banking. The study shows only "a tenuous improvement in working conditions and pay for women, compared with men, even in sectors such as the banking, where human resource development policy is more structured."

Equality Is Quality award

The "Equality Is Quality" (Igualdade é Qualidade) prize, awarded by CITE, was launched under the NAP which, under Guideline 16 (tackling gender gaps) of Pillar IV (strengthening equal opportunities policies), provides for awards to be given to companies with exemplary policies in the area of equal opportunities. The prize was inspired by a similar Belgian award.

The prize aims to single out those companies that have distinguished themselves in promoting positive action. It also aims to publicise particular cases and exemplary measures that have made strides in furthering equal opportunity and improvements at work, by highlighting companies that have integrated equal opportunity objectives into their overall management plans. It also hopes to increase consumer demand for products and services that have been created and provided with concern for "total quality", which means respect for the applicable legislation regarding equal opportunities.

The overall response to the initiative has been notable. This first time around, 24 companies have been selected by a specially appointed selection panel. The companies concerned will be highlighted in the media and the companies themselves will be allowed to state on their product packaging, in brochures and other publications and in advertising and other business activities that they were recipients of the honour, which is valid for a three-year period.

Integration of equal opportunities into the social dialogue

A European project on "integrating equality of opportunity into social dialogue" (Integrar a Igualdade de Oportunidades no Diálogo Social») has been set up as part of the EU's Leonardo da Vinci vocational training programme, aimed at training industrial relations negotiators to ensure that collective agreements contain clauses promoting equal opportunity within companies.

In Portugal, the initiative has been promoted by CITE and has been taken up by the social partners and other national organisations working in partnership. Also collaborating in the initiative are organisations from Italy (CERTAM), Spain (PGP and CIREM), France (CEFAR), and Finland (Equal Opportunities Council). This is the first time that trade union and employers' confederations have got together in a project of this nature, aimed at this specific type of training.

The pilot project is slated to last for two years, until June 2001, and will turn out specialists in training negotiators. This corps of trainers will be able to certify their trainees as specialists in a number of areas relating to equal opportunities, such as: applying legislation and case law, notably EU law; economics; human resource management, and changing attitudes. One of the main objectives of the methodology to be used is that it will go on to have a "multiplier effect".

In Portugal, the initial group of negotiators to be trained include a total of 16 individuals from trade unions and management chosen from the following sectors: textiles, garment and ready-to-wear manufacture; electrical and electronic materials; the canning industry; transportation; commerce and retail; the hotels industry; and the financial sector.

The initiative will also include a study on the Portuguese situation with regard to equal opportunities, and will culminate in a seminar to be held in Lisbon.

NOW-Luna project

The NOW-Luna Project, is a transnational project within the EU's EMPLOYMENT programme and its offshoot, the New Opportunities for Women (NOW) initiative. It aims to establish an observatory on the female labour market, to support the diffusion of equal opportunities. The Portuguese participant in the project is the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses CGTP-IN), with CITE and IDICT as partners. Elsewhere in Europe, the partners are Spain's Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions (Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO) and ECAP (Ente Confederale Addestramento Professionale) in Italy's Emília Romagna region, which is the training centre of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana Lavoratori, Cgil).

In Portugal, the project involves work in 20 companies in several sectors, involving close to 33,000 workers, 17,000 of whom are women.The initiative has included a number of studies aimed at providing a deeper understanding of concrete examples of discrimination and a better view of what types of training actions are being undertaken. Studies are also currently underway on the conditions for, and obstacles to, career advancement for women.

A number of the companies that have joined the NOW-Luna project have approved positive action protocols to promote equality. In all cases, the signing of the protocols was preceded by a thorough debate involving union officials and members of the human resource management teams of the companies.

Commentary

Within the framework of the EU Employment Guidelines, launched at the 1997 special Luxembourg European Council employment summit (EU9711168F), and with the reinforcement of equal opportunities policies being one of the four pillars of the Member States' resulting NAPs, the issue of equal opportunities has gained new impetus both in Portugal and in the rest of the EU.

In Portugal, the issue has been additionally highlighted by a 1997 revision of the Constitution which officially recognises guaranteeing equality of opportunity as a fundamental task of the state, and the creation of a new Ministry to deal with issues of equality. Although there is still much left to do, the new rules imposing stricter sanctions for infringements of sex discrimination legislation, resulting from the Law 118/99 of 11 August 1999 (PT9909162N), in force since 1 December 1999, show that things have started to change. (Maria Cândida Palminha IDICT)

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