T1-08: Strengthening gender equality

6 September 2019, 11:00–12:30

Chair: Isabel da Costa


‘Gender inequality – Now available on digital platform’

An interplay between gender equality and gig economy in the European Union

Neha Vyas, Goethe University Frankfurt

Women are sometimes compelled to accept precarious work because they have to cater to the unpaid care work which stems from family obligations.  Precarious work which includes part time work, agency work, etc. is more prevalent amongst women, by default, than it is among men. There are a lot of issues faced by non standard employment/ atypical work workers as compared to workers in full time/standard employment and since women are more likely to accept such employment it is more gendered in nature. There is a need to look into the labour law policy through a feminist perspective not only to improve the conditions of women in non standard employment but moving from precarious work to full time work by making work conditions suitable for women.

Gig economy might be the necessary solution for women who can possibly transition from unemployment to employment without disturbing the male breadwinner –female care giver model. Women, especially from the urban, educated and skilled background; are rapidly resorting to the online platforms for work instead of the full time employment. There might be various reasons for accepting such employment but the reality remains that such employment is classified as atypical work thereby making it precarious in nature.  The problems faced by precarious workers, mostly women, are still at large irrespective of the platform of work. Therefore, it is imperative to regulate such precarious work in the gig economy as well.

The evolution of work from the traditional platform to the digital platform also calls for a diversification in the legislation, especially laws related to labour protection. Moreover, it has become important to understand the relationship between gig economy and gender which is still at a nascent stage. Policymakers all over the world are still trying to determine the status to be attributed to the employees working in the gig economy. This question regarding the categorization, in itself is posing a lot of questions in various jurisdictions, including the European Union. The European Union has already initiated the work to accommodate the social protection for gig economy workers to comply with the European pillar of social rights. Despite of this, it shall be understood that social protection in most of the European member nations focuses immensely towards full time workers or full time open ended contracts. Therefore, when it comes to social protection of women in the labour market, they end up facing three layered discrimination namely, gender, interracial and precarious nature of the work.

Some employers might deliberately adopt the technique of hiring women on contract basis as gig workers just so that they can avoid the hassle of putting mechanisms into place relating to anti discrimination or  just because of their inability to tolerate or allocate various benefits or they need to comply with while hiring female workers. Therefore, “the Switch,” from the traditional to digital platform, should be the choice of the woman and not the last resort due to the lack of proper redressal mechanisms by the company.

There is also a need to look into the aspect of gender pay gap. The question of gender pay gap is still at large even on the traditional platform and would now be transmitted to digital platform. There is a possibility that women workers can fare better on the digital platform but the profiling of the workers, takes into consideration the gender and age of the workers, which might lead to inherent gender discrimination. Despite of anonymity, there are certain male dominated services and advanced technological services for which women are not preferred. This leads to discrimination on the digital platform and makes women vulnerable, thereby bringing stagnation in the position of women when it comes to pay gap based on gender.

Furthermore, even if the woman chooses to work on the digital platform, it puts her on lower pedestal for promotion. Given the uncertainty of gig economy, position of women working on such platform is at par with the other precarious workers in the traditional platform. Therefore, when it comes to promotion or increase in remuneration or any other improvement in the conditions of the women workers, they would be devoid of such benefits thereby leading to fewer women at the top level management. As it is, the number of women at the management level all over the world is less; this issue will also remain unresolved if correct mechanisms are not put in place. Therefore, even the question related to glass ceiling remains unanswered.

Zero hour contracts, contractual employment etc. are mostly taken up by the vulnerable sections of the society, meaning young women or students, which generally go by the norm of hire and fire policies with no guarantee of absorption into the full time employment. This makes their jobs precarious in nature. For this reason, European Commission should formulate a policy which lessens the element of uncertainty by providing them with required protection in the labour market.

The methodology for the paper shall be doctrinal and the approach shall be analytical in nature with the focus on European Union as a jurisdictional aspect. This paper shall analyse various issues relating to gender in light of the emerging trend of gig economy. Moreover, there shall be an analysis of existing policies on gig economy as far as women employees are concerned, steps taken by the European commission for the same and improvements or changes which can be proposed for the betterment of such policies. The main question, however, to be addressed, in this paper, would be whether “the Switch” from traditional economy to digital economy could be devised in a way beneficial to the women at large in the European Union labour market, thereby striving towards gender equality.

Keywords: Gig economy, Women, European Union, Precarious Employment

Closing the gender pay gap. What role for unions?

Jill Rubery, The University of Manchester

This paper draws on  work undertaken for ACTRAV, the trade union section of the ILO, to  develop a framework for understanding the  contributions of trade unions and collective bargaining  to closing the gender pay gap.  The key argument developed, drawing on the current state of knowledge  with respect to international comparative evidence, is that gender pay equality is more likely to be achieved within inclusive and egalitarian labour markets. Trade unions and collective regulation are shown to be central to both the development of inclusive labour markets and to the pursuit of gender pay equality. By focusing on this dual function of collective representation, the vital input of trade unions to the closing of the gender pay gap can be identified.

The first part of the framework  identifies the impact of more exclusive labour markets  on gender specific risks of inequality where exclusive labour markets are considered to include not only those dominated by managerial prerogative but also those where trade unions and collective bargaining mainly protect more advantaged and male groups. For  more inclusive labour markets it is argued that it matters not only that collective bargaining coverage is wide but also that inter-sectoral and inter-firm differentials are narrow to limit devaluation of female-dominated sectors and reduce incentives for outsourcing. Complementary policies to promote inclusive labour markets are also required such as transparency, socially-responsible outsourcing, public sector bargaining rights but individual countries may take somewhat different paths towards more inclusivity, dependent on its employment relations systems and trajectory.  The second element to the framework identifies how the effectiveness of specific gender equality measures (revaluation of female-dominated sectors,  gender sensitive job evaluation and gender pay audits) is affected by  the context of inclusive or exclusive labour markets. In exclusive labour markets equality measures might be undermined by stronger ripple effects to restore differentials between low and high wage workers. Gender sensitive job evaluation schemes are more likely to be effective where wage differentials are narrower in general;  gender equality law only provides for equal pay for equal value, allowing scope for large differentials between male-dominated and female-dominated grades even where differences in the value of the work are marginal. Further In exclusive labour markets, raising women’s internal pay grading could lead to outsourcing of female jobs to cheaper providers. Gender pay reports or audits have been found to be more effective when trade unions are involved in monitoring and scrutiny. Moreover, where pay systems are transparent and based around job grading, the causes of gender pay differences can be identified more easily than when pay is individualised and market-based.

This dual strategy for trade union action is then applied to understanding the  potential practices  that trade unions are adopting and could adopt at different levels- international, national, sectoral, company- for promoting inclusive labour markets  and for promoting gender equality. Thus the framework enables trade unions to point to the importance of collectively-determined, regulated and transparent wage setting systems for providing the type of wage-setting environment in which gender pay equity can be enhanced. At the same time it can also be used to identify where more efforts  are needed to, for example,  remove any gender inequality embedded within existing collectively-bargained wage structures.

To illustrate the need for  action at all levels of union structures, at international, national, sectoral and local  levels to close the gender pay gap through the dual strategy of promoting inclusive and gender equal  wage structures, three specific examples are examined.

The first  considers action to improve women’s position  in global supply chain, often located at the bottom of the supply chain ladder. Coordinated actions are found to be needed across different levels of trade unions. Global initiatives are growing in importance as the number of Global Framework Agreements rise and extend into female-dominated sectors but global level action needs supporting by sectoral and local trade union action to improve sector-level and country-level wage standards in female-dominated sectors and to ensure enforcement of  such standards.

The second example is action in the public sector where women tend to be disproportionately represented. Here three types of actions were considered: remedying the long term undervaluation in some countries of public services work, further exacerbated by recent austerity measures; developing sector-wide gender sensitive job evaluation systems or promoting gender equality through follow up to gender equality audits; and inserting social clauses in public sector outsourcing to reduce the use of outsourcing of female-dominated jobs to the lower paying private sector.

The third case explored the impact of extending and raising the wage floor as a strategy for  improving the pay of women workers through the specific case of domestic workers a previously excluded group. Trade union action at all levels was found again to be important, internationally in campaigning for the ILO standards and instruments on domestic workers, nationally in promoting the legitimacy of legal protections and ensuring their observation in practice. Organising domestic workers remains a challenge but the increased formalisation of  domestic work should provide a platform on which unions can build to establish sectoral collective bargaining.

These types of actions to close the gender pay gap are argued also to provide  an agenda for trade union renewal and development. A focus on closing the gender pay gap potentially extends trade union interests into new areas, as in the case of  domestic workers, provides  new perspectives on inequalities, as for example revealed by the  unequal  value distribution within global supply chains, and challenges  often long established undervaluation of female-dominated occupations within public services. Moreover a stronger focus on women’s representation and interests within trade unions should bring in new talent and energy into the trade union movement. Concerted multi-level actions to close the gender pay gap thus can be considered not an optional extra but an essential part of strategies for trade union renewal in the changing employment landscape.

Gender equality outcomes of a coordinated market economy during European economic integration

How European macro-economic policy shapes Belgian social partners’ (in)action for gender equality

Veronika Lemeire, Hasselt University
Patrizia Zanoni, Hasselt University

This article investigates social partners’ action for gender equality in national industrial relations over six decades of European economic and monetary integration. Theoretically drawing on the gender equality bargaining and the European industrial relations literatures, we analyse the historical evolution of gender equality outcomes of Belgian social dialogue from 1960 to 2018. The empirical study consists of a longitudinal analysis of Belgian intersectoral social dialogue, drawing on multiple data sources including social partners declarations and agreements, a wide range of secondary documents (e.g. trade union documents, European union documents, policy documents), and 17 in-depth expert interviews with trade union and relevant employers’ representatives and public institutional actors.

We identify five periods characterized by distinct kinds of gender equality outcomes: in a first period (1960-1976), as a result of the European Treaty of Rome, equal pay between men and women is gradually recognized as a principle for sectoral and enterprise wage negotiations and in the setting of a gender neutral minimum wage. In a second period (1977-1985), the government unilaterally imposes wage restraint and labour flexibility in the context of the European-wide crisis of Keynesian labour market policy. In a third period (1986-1997), guided by European voluntaristic gender equality programmes, Belgian social partners participate in positive action plans with the aim of promoting women’s employment and introduce a specific contribution to fund flexible child care initiatives. European economic and social policy at the change of the millennium (1998-2008), leads towards the introduction of a range of measures to reconcile work and private life while gender-neutral function classifications are encouraged to combat the gender pay gap. In the last period (2009-2018), under pressure of European austerity that imposes state budget restraint, the previously introduced  reconciliation measure of career breaks is gradually reduced in scope and the consideration for gender equality in social dialogue becomes marginal. In the same period, the Belgian Parliament adopts a law to combat the gender pay gap through intersectoral, sectoral and company social dialogue, though its implementation is undermined by the state imposed wage freeze that aims to restore the competitiveness of the Belgian economy in relation to its neighbour states. Our analysis shows that the gender outcomes of national social dialogue are influenced simultaneously by the European gender equality policy and the European macro-economic policy. In particular, the European shift towards competitive corporatism – concerted wage and labour cost competition between member states -fundamentally conflicts with the goal of gender pay equality, as the negotiated upgrading of women wages to repair institutionalised gender pay inequalities is constrained by wage restraint rules. Our study contributes to the current literature on gender equality bargaining by showing the key role of European economic and monetary integration, as mediated by the state, in determining gender equality outcomes of national bargaining in a coordinated market economy.

Keywords: gender equality bargaining, intersectoral agreements, neoliberal transformation, social dialogue, coordinated market economies, Belgian industrial relations, European integration

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