Four hundred and fifty women trade union delegates from 100 countries will gather in Brussels next week to analyse the impacts of the global jobs crisis on women and map out international trade union action to improve women’s job security, pay and conditions. The first ITUC World Women’s Conference, entitled “Decent Work, Decent Life for Women” will examine how trade unions are taking the lead on economic and social justice and equality.

A major focus of the programme will be on reaching out to the most vulnerable and exploited women such as domestic workers, while discussions will also centre on the position of women within trade unions, achieving gender equality through collective bargaining and extending social protection and social security.

ITUC Women’s Committee Chair Diana Holland, who will preside over the Conference, said “Women all over the world are suffering the terrible effects of the global economic crisis. Shameful financial practices caused this crisis, not women workers, and as we come together for this first ITUC Women’s Conference, it’s time for women workers to be heard and their demands acted upon.”

The Conference discussion guide, which provides extensive and detailed coverage of priority issues for women at work and in society and politics, points to the steady rise in precarious work in recent years, leaving many women in short-term jobs with low pay and with little or no protection from exploitation, and lacking social security and pension entitlements.

The situation of women in the least wealthy countries is also given special attention, in particular the absence of opportunities to find jobs in the formal economy and the impact of illiteracy and disease. Means of tackling systemic gender discrimination and violence against women at work and in the home will also be examined.

“The lack of progress on women’s rights, in particular at the workplace, is a clear and damning indictment of the failed free-market fundamentalism which reigned supreme until it led the world into the worst recession for 70 years. Gender equality is central to our trade union agenda for a just and equitable global economy, which reaches from the workplace through to the leaders of the G20 and the UN.

This Conference will reinforce and build on that, and will help bring the message to working women and men across the world,” said ITUC President Sharan Burrow, who will address the Conference opening along with trade union leaders from the Belgian host organisations and representatives of the ILO, including Director General Juan Somavia via video link.

A report specially produced for the Conference The Decent Work Agenda: a Gender Perspective reveals how much remains to be done to secure better economic opportunities for women. The survey findings from some 100,000 male and female respondents in 12 countries shows that women are overall less satisfied than men on issues such as pay and pensions.

While men are more likely to work overtime, women in a number of countries are less likely to be compensated for overtime which they do work. Women are also more likely to be working part-time, at lower rates of pay.

Following previous ITUC reports on the gender pay gap, which is put at 16.5% globally on official government figures and at around 22% based on a major survey published by the ITUC in March this year, the findings of this report reinforce the “union advantage” for women covered by collective agreements. The report also highlights the continuing difficulties faced by women in obtaining promotions at work compared to men.

The innovative internet-based project Decisions for Life, which covers 14 developing and transition countries and eight occupational sectors, will also be profiled at the Conference, as will the ITUC’s “Decent Work, Decent Life for Women” campaign.

Other key topics will include migrant women’s rights, food security, climate change, women as decision-makers, and the situation of young women at work and in trade unions.

Action for maternity protection will also feature in the conference discussions

More information
ITUC video on Women at Work