ETF Women's Committee report, October 2015

Janine Booth's report from the meeting of the European Transport Workers' Federation's Women's Committee in Berlin, 12-13 October 2015.


Women's health and safety at work

The Committee is compiling a training module about women's health and safety at work. It commissioned an 'expert' to draw up a plan for the session, which was presented to us at this meeting. However, there were several criticisms of it from Committee members, who felt that it: was too 'academic' in tone; did not include a key section on refusal to work on safety grounds; did not include key issues such as women's facilities, clothing and PPE; referred to the person delivering the training as a 'manager'(!); and separated physical health and stress to much too great a degree.

I have argued at previous meetings that it is preferable for the Committee to use its own expertise, and that of our rank-and-file members, in drawing up material, as we did with our VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN TRANSPORT WORKERS - IT'S NOT PART OF THE JOB posters (see below) rather than pay significant sums of money from a limited budget for work by external 'experts' who may not approach the work from a trade union perspective.

The training module will now be revised to incorporate Committee members' views.


Violence against women transport workers

This has been an unfunded campaign so far, so I have pressed for as much action as possible within that constraint.

Last year, we had an open invite to design and submit posters under the sloganVIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN TRANSPORT WORKERS – IT’S NOT PART OF THE JOBYou can see the posters that were submitted here. RMT has printed the one designed by RMT members (Esme Bradbury, Becky Crocker and Janine Booth) and circulated it to all branches. Copies can be obtained for free from RMT head office.

The call for poster designs will be reissued, so new designs can be submitted – meanwhile, the current designs will be posted around European transport workplaces, and the Committee is keen to see photos of it in workplaces and reports of how it has been used to prompt debate and challenge attitudes.

The online survey of women transport workers’ experiences of violence at work that I proposed had not yet been set up, but the proposed schedule now is: October - draft circulated to Committee members; November – online survey launched; February – deadline for submissions; May – results presented at mid-term conference.

The three-woman Working Group on this campaign (including me) will be meeting in January to push this work further, including designing an additional to the training package about Violence Against Women.


ECI - Fair Transport

The European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) is running a European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) called Fair Transport Europe.

An ECI is an European Union (EU) process by which, if you get 1,000,000 signatures from EU citizens on your proposals for legislative change, you get a formal meeting with the European Commission and the possibility of European Parliament action on your proposals.

Details, including online signing form, are here.

The demands of the ECI are quite limited, it is couched in terminology about "fair competition" etc, and the ETF states that it "is not a protest movement". But it does include demands to strengthen workers' rights when transferred between employers, trade union recognition, stopping abuse of migrant workers to undercut wages, ending zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment etc. It is a move to campaign for cross-Europe transport workers' rights.

So please sign and share!


Address from EVG Chair

Alexander Kirchner, Chair of German transport trade union EVG, spoke at ETF Women's Committee on 12 October 2015. His two key points were:

1. EU Fourth Railway Package

This package of proposals is driven by the European Commission to promote 'liberalisation' (ie. fragmentation and privatisation), but trade union campaigning has succeeded in getting the European Council to amend sections about separation of infrastructure and operations (opposing it) and procurement (allowing direct award of contracts rather than open competitive tendering in certain circumstances).

"Right-wing politicians argue that liberalisation of railways leads to lower prices, but in reality, they have become more expensive."

The campaign against liberalisation continues. One focus for the German unions is to ensure that when contracts are transferred, the new contractor must take on the existing workforce (as already happens in the UK and other countries).

2. Refugees and migrants

Hostility to migrants is reflected in the worryingly high vote for the anti-immigrant party in the recent Austrian election, and similar developments in other countries.

When right-wingers oppose migration, they fail to acknowledge that people leave our countries as well as coming to them. Over the past two centuries, many Germans emigrated, either fleeing political persecution or because they were unable to make a living at home. Germans moved to eastern Europe, to north and south America, to Africa - sometimes whole villages emigrated together.

There are currently 24 wars and 400 conflict zones in the world, many eg. Syria, with little hope of resolution soon.

"This is not a sideline topic. We have a responsibility as trade unionists to integrate migrants. If we fail, there will be a different Europe, one with large right-wing movements, one in which I would  not wish to live."

Further points in reply to questions:

  • Transport workers have been impacted by the refugees' arrival: 200,000+ refugees came by trains, hundreds of thousands are travelling on urban transport. This has meant extra workload and extra hours for transport workers, which they have been willing to do.
  • EVG has taken part in round-table meetings with rail companies and training providers, to secure for migrant workers: jobs; training; language teaching; social support; representation and help from trade unions.
  • In previous years, many young Spaniards came to Germany to work on the railways. Although they got jobs and housing, they did not get support with social integration, so many left.
  • The union involves youth reps in this work and provides mentors for migrant workers.
  • Germany needs new young workers because of its ageing population, and particularly lacks caregivers, nurses, etc.
  • Right-wing politicians are trying to exempt immigrants workers from the minimum wage: the trade unions are opposing this.
  • Employers want to exploit migrant workers to drive down pay: some even go to the refugee camps and recruit people to work for 3 Euros per hour (minimum wage is 8.50 Euros). The unions are demanding that the government acts to stop this.


Mid-term women's conference

The Committee's work is organised around 4-year terms: we are currently in the 2013-17 term. The mid-term conference is scheduled to take place in Istanbul on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 April 2016. Sixty delegates' places are centrally funded, so I hope that RMT will send a decent-sized delegation.

The conference will include: opening address from Turkish trade unions; guest speakers, including from the International Transport workers' Federation (ITF); presentations on a recent study of women in transport, and on organising migrant women transport workers; an update on the committee's work; and a half day of workshops identifying issues for future campaigning.

I proposed inviting a Kurdish woman speaker: the invitation will be offered, but Kurdish women may have security concerns.


EU initiatives

The EU's European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has published an Opinion on Women and Transport. This is of little consequence in terms of decision-making, but it does identify some key factors in the under-representation of women in transport employment and includes some useful facts and statistics in its Appendix. It identifies some key factors in the under-representation of women in transport employment, but heavily promotes 'women in business' as a way forward. It also recommends TfL's "100 women" as an example of a "co-ordinated approach" between institutions and trade unions despite the fact that the trade unions were not, to my knowledge, involved in it, and despite the increasing problems of jobs cuts and harassment/assault against TfL's female workforce.

The EU's Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc hosted a 'brainstorming meeting' on 24 September about women in transport. It identified the three most pressing issues as: stereotypes of transport work as ma, with a male-centred culture; lack of data and awareness; and the unattractiveness of transport work to women, including a harsh working environment. Several members of our Committee felt that this did not give sufficient weight to concrete issues such as work-life balance, family-unfriendly working hours and lower pay for women transport workers. It appears that the Commissioner thinks that under-representation of women in transport work is mainly caused by issues in people's heads rather than by discriminatory and exploitative working conditions. So it is little surprise that the solutions suggested are largely concerned with raising awareness rather than improving wages and conditions.


Reports and business

  • We endorsed our new Committee member - Laura Andrei from FILT CGIL (Italy). Laura reported on the situation in Italy: cuts in public services have led to cuts in trade union resources. Cuts and privatisation have meant that there is more work for unions to do but fewer resources available to do it. Participating in international campaigns has become particularly difficult. Women are losing their jobs because they don't have the means to balance life and work because of cuts in social services.
  • As always, a local woman transport worker addressed the meeting. Our guest this time (sorry, I didn't get her name) is an EVG member who works compiling schedules in a railway engineering team that is 50:50 women:men. She reported that it remains difficult to implement equal pay and to pinpoint reasons why women are not getting jobs and promotions.
  • There is a vacancy for a women's representative on the ETF Executive. Unions will be asked to nominate, and the post elected at the next Women's Committee meeting in April.
  • ETF website: It's not user-friendly, it's pretty rubbish really. It's going to be updated and improved, but we don't know when.
  • The Committee visited the German Parliament and was supposed to meet with Martin Burkert, Social Democratic Party (SPD) member of parliament and chair of the Transport Committee, but he had to attend an urgent meeting about 5,000 job cuts that had just been announced. His replacement showed us round and explained the committee's work, but was not willing to answer the political questions that we had planned to put to Martin. These included two from me, about: fighting the Fourth Railway Package; and endorsing our campaign Violence Against Women Transport Workers: It's Not Part of the Job.