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Radical change needed for gender equality at work

The recent landmark ILO report, Work for a Brighter Future, is calling for the implementation of a transformative agenda for gender equality in the future of work.

The trade union movement must take the lead in this agenda – in its own structures as well as the sectors it represents. However, gender equality cannot be achieved without first eliminating the epidemic of violence against women at work. 

This International Women’s Day on 8 March, IndustriALL is calling on affiliates to take action in support of an ILO Convention and Recommendation on violence and harassment at work, with a strong focus on gender-based violence.

Incredibly, no international standard addresses gender-based violence at work, even though 35 per cent of all women over the age of 15 have experienced sexual or physical violence at home, in their communities or in the workplace.

In order to eliminate violence against women and achieve gender equality, the new world of work must be free from the patriarchal structures that dominate the current model and only serve to undermine the working conditions, pay and prospects of women workers.

“Women continue to have to adjust to a world of work shaped by men for men,” said the ILO’s Global Commission for the Future of Work, which produced the new ILO report.

The Commission recommends that women’s voices, representation and leadership are strengthened. It encourages governments, employers and workers’ organizations to actively pursue and support greater representation by women.

Last November, IndustriALL’s Executive Committee adopted recommendations to increase women’s participation in its sectors. Women’s participation is not just about being present in meetings, it means that women have a genuine voice and take part in decision-making.

It is all the more important for unions to address the challenge of women’s participation as industries undergo profound transformation led by digitalization. Digitalization is not a gender-neutral process. Industry will be increasingly driven by skills and innovation rather than physical strength, which should make it easier to achieve gender equality. But the emergence of these new technologies risks worsening the gender inequalities within the labour market.

Women still face barriers to access education and training. Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) studies represent a minority of students. While technological progress will create new jobs within Industry 4.0, those who are not prepared will not be able to gain access to them.

Women currently hold many of the underpaid manufacturing jobs that are likely to be replaced by new technologies over the long term. In some male-dominated industries, the number of female workers is set to increase as manual labour gives way to white-collar jobs, but action is needed to ensure that this work is properly valued and does not perpetuate existing patterns of undervaluing work that is predominately performed by women. Replacement of unionized jobs with non-unionized jobs will only increase the potential pay gap.

Furthermore, developing artificial intelligence and algorithms for recruitment processes tend to be based on historical data that are filled with gender stereotypes, which will only exacerbate existing inequalities. For example, algorithms used by taxi service, Uber, favour men who work longer and later hours, which often pose problems for women who often have more caring commitments and are reluctant to work riskier night shifts.

Let’s make sure that the future of work for women is based on equality and free from violence.  In June 2019, there will be a second discussion on violence and harassment at work during the International Labour Conference. Employers remain opposed to a binding Convention and much of the important content demanded by unions.

A new Convention is an historic opportunity to fill the gap in the protection of millions of workers, and more specifically women workers. But to achieve this, unions need to mobilize.


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