“MORE AND BETTER JOBS FOR WOMEN: AN EU PRIORITY?”
PES Women held its first annual conference on Friday 18 March 2005 in Brussels a few days before European Heads of State and Government reviewed progress on the Lisbon strategy at the annual Spring Summit.
The conference considered the need to increase the participation rate of women in the labour market and to improve the quality of women’s employment. There was a broad consensus among participants that these two objectives should be a priority and the panel discussions enabled the development of ideas as to how to more effectively push forward with these aims.
Here is a short report of the proceedings.
Zita Gurmai, President of PES Women and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, President of the PES gave opening speeches which provided a political framework for the rest of the conference.
Zita Gurmai underlined the importance of making improvements in three areas: a robust and well-enforced legal framework, enabling conditions to reconcile family and work commitments (such as childcare) and changing cultural norms.
Poul Nyrup Rasmussen stressed that providing more and better jobs for women would deliver social justice for women and was the only way the European economies and societies can survive given the demographic challenges Europe faces.
Commissioner Spidla presented an account of the European Commission’s approach to gender equality and increasing the participation of women in the labour market. He focused on the Commission’s Green Paper on Demographic challenges, its proposal for the Gender Institute and the new PROGRESS programme (which regroups all anti-discrimination funding from DG Employment).
FIRST PANEL DISCUSSION
The first panel constituted a balance of speakers from PES member parties and from civil society: Edite Estrela MEP, PS - Portugal, Vice-President of Parliament’s Women’s Rights Committee and Vasso Papandreou MP, PASOK - Greece, Former Commissioner for Social Affairs and member of PES Presidency, Catelene Passchier, Confederal Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation and Anne-Sofie Parent, President of the Social Platform.
Speakers and participants considered how to effectively pursue achieving more and better jobs for women. There was a debate about whether the priority should be simply more jobs for women or an increase in quality work for women, given that many women are in precarious forms of employment (such as part-time and temporary work). There was extensive reflection about how to reduce and eliminate the gender pay gap (which stands at an EU average of 16%,). There was also a consideration of the role of trade unions and civil society.
SECOND PANEL DISCUSSION
The second panel included two experts who took a pan-European perspective: Maria Tomassetti, DG Employment & Social Affairs and Sabrina Tesoka, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The other two experts - Tijs Broeke, Equal Opportunities Commission, UK and Pascale Vielle, Institute for the equality of women and men, Belgium, presented a member state specific perspective on how to progress on key initiatives.
The experts considered tackled the overarching question of the legal, social and cultural changes which are necessary to increase the participation rate of women in quality work.
The European experts focused on effective policy interventions to enable the reconciliation for parents of work and family commitments (affordable childcare and parental leave) and the reasons for the gender pay gap (such as gender segregation in the labour market, the majority of women being employed in low paid sectors). The member state experts explored the use of pay reviews to tackle the pay gap, how to ensure non-discrimination of pregnant workers and how to encourage fathers to take parental leave.
At the closing session the President, Zita Gurmai and three Vice-Presidents of PES Women, Anna Karamanou, Inger Segelstrom and Olga Zrihen, discussed with PES Women members how to push forward with the ideas produced in the debates. It was agreed that in follow-up to the conference a report with policy recommendations would be presented.