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ISSUE 53 page 3

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France passes gender action laws as Germany debates the need for one

WORRIED BY THE PERSISTENCE OF THE GENDER PAY GAP and the failure by employers to enforce the equality provisions of recent EU legislation, law-makers in France have come up with a range of measures aimed at promoting workplace gender equality. Where a trade union exists a company must negotiate on equality and reach an agreement before the start of next year. If there is no union an employer is obliged to draw up an annual action plan ‘in consultation with elected employee representatives’. Failure to do so will result in the firm being fined up to 1% of its wage bill, the amount to be determined by the public labour authorities. The agreement or plan must set specific objectives in both quantitative and qualitative terms based on an analysis of the gender situation in the company and the progress made in the previous year. Topics covered should include access to employment, training and promotion, working and employment conditions, especially those of part-time workers, and work-life balance. A previous, temporary law that insisted on annual, industry-wide negotiations to reduce pay differentials between men and women has been made permanent by the new legislation.
France has also toughened up its commitment to workplace gender equality in another field: women in the boardroom. In January the National Assembly approved a measure which will force large companies to reserve 40% of the top posts for females by 2017 and hit a 20% target in three years time. The legislation will apply to about 2,000 firms that are either listed on the stock exchange, have more than 500 employees or revenues of over €50 million. At the moment only 15% of board members in the top quoted companies are women. French socialists were in favour of the law: ‘This text represents a real advance’, said Aurelie Filipetti. Although the country follows Norway and Spain in setting gender quotas it seems there is more opposition to such labour market intervention in its neighbour, Germany. With only 3.2% of executives in the 200 biggest German companies being female, both the Labour and Families ministers, Ursula von der Leyen and Kristina Schröder, from the centre-right CDU, have suggested a similar initiative with a target of 30% by 2013. However members of the coalition government from the smaller Free Democrat party have rejected the proposal saying that it was ‘not the duty of politicians to dictate companies' staff policies’. Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Socialist SPD wanted to go further, calling for a 40% minimum to have immediate effect. 


Finnish unions work hard to help migrant workers

TRADE UNIONS IN FINLAND ARE playing a positive rôle in the debate on immigration which has started in preparation for elections in April. Their primary objective is to prevent the creation of two, parallel labour markets due to the exploitation of migrant workers, a process known as ‘social dumping’. Although this started in the private construction and catering industries, the Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL) warns that as public services are increasingly contracted out it becomes more difficult to enforce labour standards. Various public sector unions have taken action to integrate foreign members: Super, who organise nurses, hold information and guidance events while the Federation of Salaried Employees, Pardia, has trained support workers and JHL have echoed the British TUC by publishing its guide book in Russian, Estonian, English and Spanish as well as Finnish.  They also want to beef up national legislation that they regard as too slack in tackling abuse. Although new laws have not been passed so far, Ralf Sund, of the union confederation STTK, believes employers could be enlisted to demand them as ‘Law abiding companies would benefit from more effective control as the abuse of immigrant labour weakens their own position in respect of competition’.

Italians to vote to keep water public
 ITALIAN TRADE UNIONS HAVE SUPPORTED a movement which has used a law on referenda to try to keep the water supply industry in the public sector.  According to the Constitution a petition containing at least 500,000 signatures can be presented to the Italian Supreme Court with the aim of striking down an existing law. If the court validates the petition a vote of the entire electorate must be held. The ‘Forum Italiano dei Movimenti per l’Acqua’ campaign collected 1.4 million signatures to initiate referenda on repealing two laws which force local authorities to sell their stake in water companies and to calculate prices on a ‘full cost recovery’ basis. The movement says that water is a common good that should not be subject to the vagaries of the market. Voting should take place in the Spring when a 50% turnout will be needed as well as a majority if the legislation is to be abolished.


A poster from the ‘public water’

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