Report on ETF Women's Conference

This report on the European Transport Workers Federation Women's Conference has been endorsed by the RMT Executive.

The ETF Women’s Conference (and Congress) met in Berlin in the 80th anniversary year of the Nazis’ storming of trade union offices and deportation of trade unionists to camps, and of the repression of LGBT venues and communities. There is a temporary display near the Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linden, and I also visited the memorials to both Jewish and homosexual victims of the Holocaust.

94 delegates from 41 unions in 22 countries were registered for the Women's Conference in advance, though 45 unions voted in the election, so there were more than that present. From the UK, ASLEF and Unite sent delegations as well as RMT.
The conference was addressed by various speakers, including Lars Lindgren (ETF President), Collette Parsons (ETF Women’s Committee Chair), Diana Holland (ITF Women’s Committee Chair), Claudia Menne (ETUC Confederal Secretary in charge of gender issues), Eduardo Chagas (ETF General Secretary) and representatives of the host unions, Christine Behle (ver.di) and Helga Peterson on behalf of EVG.
The format of the conference was based around the ETF Women’s Committee Action Plans – reporting on the work of the last four years and agreeing a Plan for the next four.


Country visits
The Women’s Committee has visited FYR Macedonia, Hungary and Turkey, and reports on these suggested that the visits were very useful. As an example, the Committee visited Hungary, which has a right-wing government and where only 9.8% of MPs are women. There are restrictive anti-union laws; the government has removed pregnancy protection laws and all equality provision in the Labour Code; and legal changes have made it easier for employers to sack people, with many sackings now communicated by text message. Following the visit, the Hungarian transport unions seem to be taking women’s concerns more seriously, and women’s participation in the unions is increasing.

Economic crisis
ETF held a seminar on women and the economic crisis in November 2011 (I do not remember the C of E being informed of this), and the Women’s Committee last year adopted a resolution to totally oppose austerity measures in the EU.
During the current economic crisis, job losses in transport have disproportionately affected women. According to the ILO, three-quarters of transport jobs lost between 2008 and 2011 were women’s jobs, despite only one in seven transport workers being women. As well as cuts in jobs, pay and public services, the recession has also been a pretext for governments to repeal or cut anti-discrimination measures just when they are needed the most.
Several contributions at the Conference spoke about ‘precarious work’, echoing our concerns about casualisation in the UK. This is a particular issue for women workers, who are often concentrated in the sort of work that is insecure, temporary, part-time and low-paid. Christine Behle from ver.di told us that “In Germany, precarious jobs are called ‘mini jobs’, based on the prejudice that when women have children, they return to the home and only work for pocket money.”

Training package
The ETF Women’s Committee has developed a training package suitable to be used in various formats, to encourage women to become confident and active trade unionists. I suggest we look at whether and how this might be incorporated into RMT’s Education provision, and how we might contribute to its development.

The various industrial sectors of the ETF have also carried out work on gender issues, reports of which are available as part of the Committee’s report. One to highlight is the ETF Urban Public Transport Committee’s project on women’s employment – a detailed study of women in urban public transport, surveying employers and trade unions about issues such as work-life balance, working culture and wages. Only 17.5% of the workforce in this sector is female, and there are significant barriers to women’s employment. The final report is available and makes an interesting read.


Issues for inclusion in the Action Plan had been discussed at the ETF gender equality mid-term conference in October 2011 – I do not recall the Council of Executives being told about this. Invitations to events such as this should be passed on to the C of E in future. For 2013-2017, the ETF Women’s Committee work programme will:
1. address workplace violence by
- an ETF collection of good practice
- guidance and an ETF policy based on initiatives taken by ETF affiliates
2. address women’s health and safety at work by:
- identifying the key problems women experience
- consolidation of the training package with women’s health & safety modules
3. mobilise ETF-affiliated unions to recruit and promote women in trade unions by:
- country visits
- meetings with women at their workplaces
- meetings with trade union leadership boards and women representatives
RMT should participate actively in this work, including responding to planned surveys of affiliates and consideration of ETF Women’s Committee circulars, guidance documents and events.

Violence against women at work
Various speakers emphasised that “We need to change the culture that violence at work is part of the job” and that we have to stop saying “It’s none of my business” and instead say “It’s totally unacceptable”.
I told the conference about the sexual assault that has prompted our Women’s Advisory Committee to request a campaign on this issue. One Swedish delegate told me that something similar had happened to her, and that her manager had responded that she should be take it as a compliment that someone had found her attractive. It was this disgusting response that had prompted her to become active in her trade union.
25 November is an annual day to ‘Say No to Violence Against Women and Girls’. ETF will co-ordinate action across Europe; we should participate.

Organising and women’s participation in trade unions
The ETF Women’s Committee is campaigning under the slogan ‘Women – Making Unions Stronger’, with the ITF Women’s Committee Chair rightly pointing out that “Too many women – good, strong women – are lost to the trade union movement by discrimination.”
The ETF feels it has made progress itself on women’s participation, with half of the Road and Rail Section Executives now women, and Eduardo Chagas noting that at ETF meetings, “Women are no longer the last item on the agenda, just before Any Other Business.” The ETUC has a female General Secretary for the first time. 8 out of 14 members of the ver.di Executive are women.

Our amendments
RMT was the only union to submit amendments to the Work Plan, which I had drafted in advance. However, this reflects more our lack of involvement in the drafting of the Plan rather than any unique interest in improving it! I explained the amendments to the Conference, and the Committee responded. Basically, the Committee supports them all, but there may be difficulties raising the resources for some of them. Our proposals were:
- a co-ordinated day or week of co-ordinated campaigning action across Europe for women transport workers’ rights
- an email/web-based alert service, to promote women’s campaigns and events
- a profile for women in mobilisations against the 4th Railway Package and other Europe-wide attacks on workers and public services
- a specific set of demands to defend women transport workers in the context of the economic crisis
- inclusion of domestic violence in the planned campaign about workplace violence, including the circulation of a model policy
- inclusion of female-specific health issues eg. maternity and menopause, in the occupational health & safety campaign
- merchandise (eg. posters, badges) promoting women’s involvement in trade unions, using the slogan A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN HER UNION (I gave our badges and posters to all delegates!)

I also raised the issue of women migrating across Europe and working in transport jobs: it is essential that ETF work to unionise these women and to oppose both the low pay and poor conditions employers impose on them, and the prejudice and hostility they encounter. I discussed with the Bulgarian delegation how we might work together to support, unionise and defend from prejudice Bulgarian workers coming over to work in UK transport when immigration restrictions relax next year. Many of these will be women workers in jobs such as cleaning and catering. As we were at the time of the conference approaching a Tube cleaners’ strike, I made a sign ‘We support RMT London Underground cleaners!’ which the delegation translated and I photographed them holding. We will be in contact again, and I think we should consider inviting them to visit the UK early in 2014 to take part in events, campaigning and workplace visits.

I have been elected to the ETF Women’s Committee for a four-year term, and will keep the Council of Executives and our National Women’s Advisory Committee updated with the Committee’s work. I hope that through this, RMT can be more involved in this area, strengthening the organisation of women transport workers across Europe.

There will be an ITF Women Transport Workers’ Conference on 13-14 January 2014 in New Delhi, India, an appropriate venue given the rising movement of women in India resisting the culture of violence against women. RMT should consider sending a woman delegate.