SIPTU women on the move!

Picture: RollingNews.ie

Training initiative to boost women’s profile in the union.

The proportion of women now in the workforce is almost mirrored by the proportion of women members in SIPTU. Women make up just over half the working population now and our female membership currently stands at 49%.

In actively promoting the organising of women workers and endeavoring to increase women’s participation in the union we are working to the 33% rule whereby all structural committees must be at least 33% male or female.

This is currently serving us well as we have seen the National Executive Council (NEC) female participation levels grow from 33% to 36% at the elections in late 2016. All of the Divisional committees are also currently meeting or exceeding this 33% rule.

While there is still work to be done at the level of the sector committees the majority of these are either at or exceeding the 33% threshold. In assisting the sectors not quite there yet the Campaigns and Equality unit will be working with them to identify and overcome any barriers to participation for women in these areas.

The Campaigns and Equality unit is also developing and rolling out training specifically designed for women activists. This training started with a three-day course in SIPTU College in early February and is currently focusing on women at NEC and Divisional level but it will be rolled out to women and sector committees over 2017.

The objective of the training is to ensure that women activists in the union have the opportunity to achieve equality of outcome in the workplace and within the union and that a network of trained and experienced women activists will be set up throughout the country to increase the pool of female activists, to mentor women activists and to increase the number of women workers in SIPTU.

Campaigns and Equality Organiser Karan O’ Loughlin told Liberty:

“Now that women make up nearly half of the membership of the union, it is important that we ensure that the participation of women at all levels of the workplace and of the union reflects this.
“Currently, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions notes that over 70% of workers on the National Minimum Wage (NMW) are women.”

The three most common reasons put forward for this are:

1. Cost of childcare — the lack of affordable childcare in Ireland is seen as a key reason for the disproportionate number of women on the NMW with childcare costs in Ireland among the highest in the OECD. This is pushing many women into low paid, flexible work where their skills and qualifications are not properly utilised and from which they have limited prospects of advancement.

2. Sector of employment — sectors of employment in which women predominate is an important factor. Women workers in Ireland are disproportionally concentrated in low paid sectors of the economy such as accommodation, food and wholesale as well as the retail trade (these two sectors account for 48.6% of all NMW workers). This is where precarious work practices are a matter for serious concern. A critical issue for the trade union movement in 2017 will be the role we can play in strengthening regulation and legislation on precarious work, including limits to the use of non-fixed hour contracts. A good starting point would be the implementation of the recommendations contained in the University of Limerick publication, A Study on the Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts among Irish Employers and their Impact on Employees 2015.

3. Part-time work — women are more likely to work part-time than men. Studies have shown that employees working part-time or on temporary contracts face a greater risk of being on the NMW than their full-time counterparts. The 2016 Low Pay Commission Report acknowledges that these factors can all be seen to be interlinked — the high cost of child care leads to many women taking up part-time or temporary work and this type of work is most readily available in low pay sectors such as retail and accommodation where women are found in disproportionate numbers.

Organising and playing an active role in the union is the most effective way for women to break this low pay cycle in the long term and our union is very much to the forefront in supporting women workers to do this.

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