The role of the workers' organisations in implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights, equal opportunities and access to the job market, the future of a social Europe

A total of 30 members of Spanish and European trade unions and workers’ associations participated in the seminar held in Madrid, Spain from 28th to 30th October 2019, organised by USO – CCFAS (Unión Sindical Obrera – Centro Confederal de Formación y Acción Social) entitled “The role of the workers' organisations in implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights, equal opportunities and access to the job market, the future of a social Europe”. The seminar was supported by EZA and the European Union.

The opening was chaired by Begoña Suárez, Deputy Director for Entrepreneurship, Equality in the Workplace and Collective Bargaining of Women from the Spanish Institute for Women's Affairs, who emphasised the inequality of women in society, particularly in sectors where the workforce predominantly female, with a wage gap of 14%, and who also proposed ‘an end to gender stereotypes that make us give a different value to the activities of men and women’.

María Reina Martin, Vice-President of the European Centre for Workers’ Questions, also attended the opening address, highlighted the Workers’ Trade Union’s choice of equal opportunities in employment as the theme of this seminar “because there is still a long way to go to achieve equality between men and women and an effective access to the labour market, and because we must work together to achieve this objective if we want a Social Europe”.

The Secretary of the Training and Equality of the Workers' Trade Union, Dulce Moreno, said during the opening that “there is still a lot of work to do to transfer that theoretical equality of access to the labour market which has been adopted into the legislation to practical reality, both in terms of employment and in everyday life.”

The first training module was presented by Professor Josef Pacolet from HIVA - Onderzoeksinstituut voor Arbeid en Samenleving (HIVA Research Institute for Work and Society), Belgium on: ‘The European pillar of social rights, the extraordinary ambition of a social Europe’ in which he highlighted the fundamental role of Europe in implementing the European pillar of social rights over the years.

Numerous papers were presented by national and international leaders of unions and organisations during the three days of the seminar, including the National Disabilities Council, the Spanish mutual insurance company Muprespa, the National Institute of Safety and Health at Work, ARHOE (Association for the Rational Planning of Spanish Work Timetables), the Federation of Progressive Women, the Gypsy Foundation Secretariat, the FELGTB (State Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals) and the AriPerú Association of Immigrant Women.

The second day of the European Centre for Workers’ Questions seminar focused mainly on women, and was divided into three modules. The first of these was entitled: ‘The commitment of European trade union organisations for equal opportunities and the involvement, integration and participation of women in them’, with Karmen Sok, Veselina Starcheva and Dulce María Moreno as speakers.

"In Slovenia, the employment rate is lower for women than for men, and women are generally responsible for childcare and household chores", said Karmen Sok of ZD NSi (Association of New Slovenia Workers). Strarcheva from Podkrepa (Bulgarian Confederation of Labour), added that Bulgaria is a highly industrialised country experiencing strong growth with an employment rate of 62%. "Women are 47% more likely to suffer severe injury in car accidents, in addition to constantly being at the forefront of the human rights struggle", said Strarcheva.

The second module of the morning covered the professional work-family life balance in Portugal and Spain, with speakers José Luis Casero and María Reina Martín. Casero, President of the Association for the Rational Planning of Spanish Work Timetables, explained that Spain is rated the fourth worst country in Europe in terms of the work-life balance, lagging behind countries like Malta and Cyprus and "we are also the leading country for educational failure, so we must be doing something wrong”. On the other hand, María Reina Martín de Fidestra stressed that women are much more penalised in the workplace in Portugal compared to men.

Rosa María Durango and Bilbi Kasmi spoke in the last module of the morning, and addressed the impact of the gender pay gap and pay equality on working women both now and in the future. “The debate is ongoing as to whether the pay gap actually exists; 73% of men and 91% of women say it does, but not everybody is aware of this problem”, said Durango, Head of Employment, Training, Equality at the Federation of Progressive Women.

In her presentation in the afternoon, the Secretary for Trade Union Action and Occupational Health, Sara García, addressed digital disconnection, its regulation in Spanish legislation and other EU countries, and collective bargaining, while the Secretary for International Action and Sustainable Development, Javier de Vicente, gave a paper on the situation of women in the institutions of the European Union and the measures to reduce the gender pay gap in this area.

To conclude the day, Mirian Fernández of the Gypsy Foundation Secretariat, Rosario Zanabria from AriPerú and Raquel Centeno from the Spanish National Federation of Gays and Lesbians discussed the employment situation of vulnerable groups including gypsies, immigrants and the LGBTI collective during the last session of the European Centre for Workers’ Questions seminar.

The Secretary General of the Workers' Trade Union, Joaquín Pérez, the Secretary for Equality, Dulce Moreno and the head of the Youth Workers' Trade Union, Pablo Trapero closed the presentations of this international training seminar of the European Centre for Workers' Questions. Pérez was encouraged to see the active participation during these two days of training and debate, stating: “the joint efforts of unions and social organisations will help us stay on track to ensure that equal opportunities and equality for men and women to access employment becomes reality in a few years".

Regarding the conclusions of the seminar, we still see the urgent need to incorporate women into workers' organisations in general, because having a seat at the negotiating table will ensure their rights are implemented in companies and workers' organisations. We still have a long way to go to integrate women into to all sections of our society, because the role of carer traditionally associated with women has meant that, as mothers, women have had to abandon their professional careers at the age of motherhood, forcing them to leave the labour market forever. The role of carer, both of children and other family members, often requires women to reduce their working hours, and their contributions are therefore lower during their working lives than those of men, leaving them with lower retirement benefits in the future and a greater risk of falling into social exclusion. Regarding the gender pay gap, it was demonstrated that pay differences persist between men and women such that women cease earning symbolically from 4th November until the end of the year. On the other hand, we continue to receive alarming data regarding the glass ceiling, both at the level of European institutions and on the executive boards of large companies, which have yet to achieve a representation of over 40% of women.

For all these reasons, we believe that the European Pillar of Social Rights should, today more than ever, impose real measures on the member states to end the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling and all the inequalities between men and women in the workplace in the member states. Likewise, we must also consider violence and harassment at work, the highly precarious nature of feminised employment, including in the care, cleaning and nursing sectors, which penalise the labour and occupational health rights of women all over the world.