Equal opportunities for women and men and access to the labour market in Europe after the health crisis. The role of trade unions in the construction of a more social and equal Europe

From October 26th to 28th, 2021, the seminar “Equal opportunities for women and men and access to the labour market in Europe after the health crisis. The role of trade unions in the construction of a more social and equal Europe” organised by USO – CCFAS (Unión Sindical Obrera – Confederal Centre for Training and Social Action) in Fuenlabrada, Madrid. The seminar, that was supported by EZA and the European Union, was attended by about 30 representatives of workers’ organisations from the following 8 countries: Poland, Portugal, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine (as guests), Albania, Latvia, and Spain).

The seminar was opened by María Reina Martin and Jozel Mozolewski, Vice-Presidents of EZA, together with Pablo Trapero, from the USO Trade Union Action Section, and Joaquín Pérez, USO Secretary General.

The first of the presentations was given by Pablo Simón Cosano, Professor of Political Science at Carlos III University in Madrid. In his study on the impact of the pandemic on employment and Spanish and European societies and the increase in inequalities, he highlighted that the people most affected by the crisis are women, young people, the unemployed over 50 years old and other people in vulnerable situations. During the colloquium, Pablo Simón focused on four main aspects: experiences with pandemics; the impact of the pandemic on education; the impact on employment and finally the impact of the health and economic crisis on mental health.

The next panel was a round table to analyse the social and labour law measures implemented in different EU countries to mitigate the impact of the COVID19 crisis. A representative from Latvia, a representative from Bulgaria and a representative from Spain took part in this context.

Following the title of our seminar, we decided to hold a round table on the participation of women in European trade union organisations and learn first-hand not only about their participation but also about the proportion of positions of responsibility held by women in trade unions. For this list we chose a representative from RS-BOFOS from Serbia, a representative from VOST VOLYA from Ukraine and a representative from USO Spain.

We wanted to close the first day of the seminar by giving a voice to the corporate bodies of those industries that have been hardest hit by unemployment or temporary contract suspensions due to the COVID-19 crisis. At this round table, we had representatives from Ukraine, Poland and Spain explaining first-hand which sectors were hit hardest and what actions they could take to mitigate the impact of contract cancellations or redundancies.

We started day two by highlighting social organisations that have been helping vulnerable people during the pandemic. We asked Mar Ugarte from CEDDD (Spanish Council for the Defence of Disability and Dependence), Francisco Álamos as representative of MTCE and Beatriz Gascón as representative of Caritas Spain for their opinion.

To continue with the social and union focus of the day, we wanted to see the other side of the pandemic, i.e. to find out how this crisis has affected public employment service workers and the work of those working in career guidance services. The speaker was Marisa Pérez, a SEPE (Public State Employment Service) employee, who told us how all the regulatory changes made in Spain in 2020 affected the workload of SEPE workers, with the problems caused by these changes, not only in the assessment of performance, but also in the lack of updating of computer programs or the failure to specify criteria. For her part, Raquel Hernández, Social Projects Coordinator at USO Illes Balears, told us how the pandemic has affected certain users of the employment service and how the role of the employees of the employment service has evolved in some cases, i.e. more to the role of psychologists and listening to the situation experienced by some people under “house arrest” as many of them live in a bedroom.

At USO we have always been concerned with the concept of equality in the broadest sense of the word and therefore we could not let this seminar pass without addressing how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting other groups such as youth, people with disabilities and the LGTBI+ affect. At this table we had Adriá Junyent from the Spanish Youth Council, Gregorio Saravia from CERMI (Spanish Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities) who explained to us the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis for the people they represent and how they are vulnerable depending on their gender, whether they have a disability or not, whether they are an immigrant, etc. At the last minute, due to health problems, the person who was supposed to represent COGAM (LGBT+ Group of Madrid) at the round table could not come to follow up of the crisis for the LGTBI+ collective, especially for trans people.

The afternoon of the second day of the seminar had three very different stories; Situation of women and public policy and arbitration. In the first of the three round tables, we dealt with the employment situation of women before, during and after the pandemic from two different approaches: national and international/global. In international cases we had the testimony of María Reina Martin who told us about the situation of women in Portugal, Paula Tejero did so for the Spanish case and Javier de Vicente gave an overall picture of the global situation of women in terms of employment, during and after the pandemic.

In the second session of Wednesday afternoon, we spoke about public employment policies promoted during the COVID-19 crisis and measures being implemented to mitigate the consequences for vulnerable people. At this round table we had Carmen Menéndez, Deputy Director General for Active Employment Policy of the Public Employment Service, Raúl Hernández Delgado, Councillor for Feminism and Diversity of the Fuenlabrada City Council, and José Luis Fernández Santillana, who was there after the last-minute cancellation by the Ministry for Equality of the Autonomous Community of Madrid.

We wanted the last table of the seminar to be a debate on whether teleworking (which has been developed so much in recent months) is a solution to arbitration. At this table we saw the approaches that the speakers shared with us on Albania and Spain, followed by an interesting debate that opened up an aspect and concluded that unless companies adopt a real policy of co-responsibility and eliminate the stigma in our society that women are needed to do housework and caring, we will not move forward on an equal footing and, telecommuting or not, there is much work to be done to be able to talk about real and effective mediation.