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IUF A/P Women's Committee Adopts Agenda for Workplace Change

Posted to the IUF website 23-Jun-2004

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As reported in the Women at Work (nr 1 2004) the IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Women's Committee has adopted an ambitious Agenda for Workplace Change as part of its ongoing efforts to make the committee's work more proactive and concrete. The Agenda is based on the following discussion paper which was presented at the committee's annual meeting in November last year and which the committee has agreed to share with all the members of the IUF

The Evolving Role of the IUF-A/P Women's Committee

This discussion paper was drafted with the aim of clarifying the role of the IUF Asia & Pacific Women's Committee (WC), how it should function and what it can be expected to deliver.

Clarity about the Work of the Women��s Committee

Like most women workers, the members of the IUF AP Women's Committee struggle to balance work, family, union and other commitments. With the ever increasing demand on the time and resources of everyone concerned, it is generally felt that Committee activities need to be justified in terms of the useful outcomes that can be expected. Clarity on expected outcome of work is therefore critical.
The role of the IUF A/P WC as spelt out in a 1999 meeting of the Regional Committee (based on the recommendation of the Women's Committee) is as follows : -
a. to reflect women's opinion on key issues to the Regional Committee ;
b. to develop and promote organising strategies aimed at increasing women��s participation in unions;
c. to develop training and education curriculum for women members ;
d. to promote exchange of information on key women workers issues and experiences in the sub-region (and within the region).

In 2001, the IUF A/P Regional Conference adopted a resolution calling for the strengthening of women��s activities. Moreover, the outgoing IUF-A/P Women's Committee at the pre-regional conference meeting in 2001 recommended that the IUF A/P Secretariat conduct and support various women's activities for the period, 2001-2005, including holding annual Committee meetings and education activities targeted at addressing specific issues of concern to women workers in the region, such as increased casualisation and maternity protection.

It may also be recalled that main issues identified as priority areas for the IUF-A/P Women's Committee are : -

1. low levels of participation and under-representation of women in all levels of union structure ;
2. inequality and discriminatory practices at the workplace ;
3. low level of unionisation among women workers ;
4. sexual harassment
5. maternity protection
In thinking about the role of the Women's Committee, it is important to take account of the current global context for women workers.
Since the 1990s, there has been a paradigm shift.
These are the key elements :-

To women workers, non-discriminatory workplaces are a key issue. This means workplaces that have workplace diversity and family-friendly policies; that uphold equality of opportunity and routinely apply fair employment practices.
These are workplaces in which women will want to work, whose products consumers will respect and whose stocks ethical investors and workers' retirement funds are interested in.
This paradigm shift implies that the momentum for women's activities exist. There is a new developing context, that is, globalisation, wherein IUF women��s activities must seek relevance and engagement.

Recommendations for Practical Work

In view of the foregoing, the IUF A/P secretariat recommends that the WC sets as it primary role the targeting and the intervention (through and with the IUF secretariats) of workplaces to bring about changes desired by the WCs in accordance with its agenda for change.

This recommendation is offered for the following reasons :-
a. most of the principles needed have been comprehensively formulated (e.g. ILO conventions on anti-discrimination, maternity protection and on equality, etc )
b. what needs to be done pressingly is to enforce these principles and conventions at the workplace to effect changes;
c. in pursuing enforcement nowadays, the point of intervention for unions is increasingly at the workplace (i.e. level of the company) first, rather than with governments or any other bodies;
d. TNCs should be priority targets for intervention since they set the social pattern for other companies to follow (for example, IUF's global agreement on equality with Danone and the IUF-Fonterra Agreement, which commits Fonterra to respecting the principles of ILO Convention 111 on Anti-discrimination and on Convention 100 concerning Equal Remuneration);
e. the beneficial outcomes expected at the workplace are positive changes and lead to increases in women's level of union membership ;
f. such a practical engagement by members of the women's committee, acting individually and collectively, with and through the IUF Asia Pacific secretariat, will activate it and communicate its clear and important role.

The next question to be considered is: What outputs are expected of the WC?
If the above recommendations are acceptable it means that the WC sees itself primarily as an action group pursuing an agenda for change starting with identifying workplaces. Related to this role are tasks such as training more women activists and advising the IUF AP RC of relevant policies which follow on from carrying out its primary task.
Consequently, it may be suggested that the Outputs Expected of the Women's Committee are the following:

1. identifying specific companies whose employment practice are not in compliance with anti-discrimination and equality rights for campaigning;
2. functioning as a training ground to activate more and more women activists in their respective unions;
3. drawing issues of particular concern to women to the attention of the IUF-A/P Regional Committee, not only highlighting the key issues but also recommendation the direction for action to be taken;
4. last but not least, to provide support to IUF in campaigns that are of special concern to women ;

Conceptually, we may visualize several dimensions of the role of the WC :
1. as a committee in the traditional sense i.e. receive reports and issue recommendations and conclusions i.e. as an advisory group;
2. as an action/solidarity campaign group (e.g. identifying companies that are not in compliance with anti-discrimination norms and standards on equality of opportunities)
3. as a school e.g. debate, workshop, talks, etc regarding globalisation and women,
4. as a network;
5. as a study focus group (gathering and analysing data)

As a committee in the traditional sense - this requires no elaboration. The key to successful functioning in this regard, is a well-focus agenda that is defined well before the meeting plus good inputs in terms of reports.

For a Committee meeting to be considered worthwhile, it must produce an outcome in terms of :
a. agreement on a common strategy towards a common major problem that can be communicated to all concerned, and/or
b. delivers a basket of strategies that implementation personnel can follow up on to create a positive impact on the constituency that the Committee represents ;

To deliver on the above :
i) each member of the Committee is authorized to represent a constituency (geographic) to receive and endorse reports on activities ; (at the very least, Committee members should report back to the Women's Committee of the union that she comes from);
ii) is engaged in a common enterprise with the others and can contribute to the strategic big picture;
iii) each member of the Committee can debate and formulate new strategies and new projects to be carried out by the implementation body i.e. secretariat or its extension;

It must be recognised that this an onerous demand. The other dimensions of the Women��s Committee��s role are much less onerous.

As an action/solidarity campaign group - this requires a willingness on the part of members of the WC to spend time and to exert effort towards identifying companies within the IUF jurisdiction for attention and campaigning. It can also function as an action support group/committee where an on-going IUF solidarity campaign ( especially in cases where the victimized are predominantly women e.g. India Tea crisis) is concerned. Above all, it requires the willingness on the part of members of the WC to put in time and work, as well as available resources at the IUF A/P secretariat to coordinate this work. WC members should advise each other as to the amount of time that they can spend on this work each week.

As a school or training ground - this requires resourcing opportunities for potential women leaders to learn, debate and skill themselves in democratic assertiveness, in communications, and on key issues.

As a study group - this requires secretariat support in terms of gathering data and helping the Committee in this task. In practice, this means that its meetings must be well-focused, well-prepared with written papers, and there are "expertsW" invited to provide inputs. The pre-condition for the successful functioning of such a committee is that its focus should be well-defined far in advance of each meeting.

As a network - this requires common goals, practical work and a constant flow of communication on matter of common interests, which has been difficult in the past.
Reviewing the different dimensions of the WC's role, one would recommend that primacy be given to the WC acting as an action group as it is this practical approach that appears to be easiest to undertake and is readily comprehensible by affiliated unions.
Furthermore, it is also suggested that one focus of the WC should be on those sectors and sub-sectors within the IUF jurisdiction where women workers are predominantly concentrated:
1. tea plantation
2. banana plantation
3. seafood processing
4. poultry processing
5. hotel, catering and tourism
6. food processing

On the basis of the foregoing, focus on the following practical work is proposed :
1. for 2004
- Maternity Protection and ILO Convention 193
- WC meeting agenda �V the Indian Tea Crisis; List of companies to address issues to;
2. for 2005
- Women and Casualisation (HRCT sector )
- WC meeting agenda �V Women & Casualisation, (emphasis on HRCT sector?); List of companies to address issue to.

Suggested Activity Format for the future :

Each annual one-day meeting of the WC should be organised as follows :
1. Receiving and discussing Reports (half a morning) ;
2. Identifying companies for follow-up action (half a day) ;
3. Discussing and resolving Key outstanding issues on Women workers�� concern (half an afternoon);
Each 2-day Training Workshop that is held in conjunction with the WC meeting should be composed of the following :
1. a training exposition on a principle of relevance to women workers (half a day);
2. sharing of experiences about a struggle or a campaign (half a day);
3. a debate (half a day)
4. a talk or presentation by an external resource person (half a day).

Activities Orientation :

To whom should the WC orient its work? The answer has to be: orient towards affiliates and potential affiliates in terms of their problems, and orient towards the Regional Committee in terms of its proposals.

The principal orientation, it is suggested, should be towards companies, especially TNCs, and highlighting their labour practices in order to ensure if they are in compliance with international anti-discrimination and equality standards. The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda of TNCs should be confronted to ensure their compliance (in deeds and in words) with the WC��s goals as enshrined in international standards.
Attachment A

No 1 - Resolution:

On Strengthening Women Activities

The 10th IUF Asia & Pacific Regional Conference, held in Manila, Philippines from 14 to 16 February 2001:

CALLS on IUF-A/P Secretariat to give full support and allocate sufficient budget to its women activities so that they can be fully carried out according to the action plans and proposals made by its Women's Committee, if needed, by strengthening and supplementing the role of IUF-A/P Secretariat to support women activities;

REQUESTS IUF-A/P Secretariat to promote exchange of information on women��s situation in this region by establishing the network among women leaders in IUF-A/P and to collect information on the development of women activities;

Further Requests all affiliates to promote organising of women and to strengthen women's activities in their own unions and sectors. Affiliates should keep the IUF-A/P secretariat updated regularly with information about the situation of women workers and union activities.

FURTHER CALLS on IUF-A/P Secretariat to take effective measure to ensure that the opinion of women covered by IUF-A/P can be fully reflected in the IUF Women's Committee and Executive Committee. In this connection, ask the incoming Regional Committee to consider the feasibility of increasing the Women's seat in the Regional Committee from one to two at the next Regional Conference.

Attachment B

Congress Resolution on Women Workers

The 24th IUF Congress, meeting in Geneva, May 14-17, 2002

NOTES that the level of union organization among women workers within the IUF sectors is far below its potential. The main factors are:
- Uncertainty on how unions can help women to improve their work/life conditions
- Fear for reprisals by employers
- Lack of time because of conflicting family responsibilities.
- Proportionately too few women trade union leaders at all levels and at the negotiating table.

CONGRESS ALSO NOTES that the proportion of women in precarious, low paid jobs and/or in the so called informal economy is much higher than that of men.

CONGRESS FURTHER NOTES that in spite of equal pay policies, there is still an average wage gap between men and women workers of 20%.This wage gap has only decreased where unions have taken positive actions, such as developing equality audits and plans for collective bargaining, job evaluation schemes, gender training programs for union officers and negotiators, etc.

CONGRESS NOTES WITH CONCERN that maternity, in spite of international labour standards, national legislation and collective agreements, continues to be a source of open or hidden discrimination against women workers.

CONGRESS EXPRESSES ITS DEEP CONCERN over the increasing number of workers who have had to leave employment prematurely, often without any compensation, due to professional diseases or injuries, for example repetitive strain injuries, that are developed in jobs traditionally held by women.

CONGRESS WELCOMES the initiative taken by the ICFTU/ITS to launch a three-year global organising campaign "Unions for Women, Women for Unions"

CONGRESS CALLS on affiliates:

CONGRESS CALLS on the IUF Secretariat: