ITUC E-News No. 25 – March 2013

ITUC E-News is produced by the International Trade Union Confederation

ITUC and UN Women Join Forces to Launch a New Publication

10 March 2013: Today ITUC and UN Women join forces to launch a new publication “Domestic Workers Count Too: Implementing Protections for Domestic Workers”. The launch event, co-sponsored by UN Women, ITUC and the government of the Philippines, takes place at a side event of the 57th UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, entitled, “Domestic Workers Count Too: Ensuring Protection, Upholding Rights”.

Based on personal testimonies from Bolivia, the State of New York, USA, the Philippines and South Africa, the ITUC-UN Women briefing kit is an encouragement to all governments to take measures to ensure that domestic workers are recognized and protected by law. Domestic workers represent an integral part of the labour force worldwide, and this is expected to grow in the coming years. Today they already make up 4-10% and 1-2.5% of the workforce in developing and industrialized countries, respectively. 83% of these workers are female. Millions are migrants leaving behind their own sons and daughters, while they take care of the children of others. Yet 40% of countries worldwide have no kind of protection whatsoever.

Building upon promising advances in the international normative framework and national practice that embodies these human rights standards, in many countries, the briefing kit explains how legal protections benefit not only domestic workers but society as a whole. “UN Women is committed to working even more closely with key partners to ensure legal and social protection for domestic workers”, said Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women. “The right of domestic workers to be recognized and protected by laws is fundamental to their human rights. We should recognize that domestic workers make a major contribution to societies, which benefits all of us”.

But the kit goes beyond making the case for legal protection. It demonstrates how standards can actually be applied and scaled up in all countries. “Domestic workers deserve decent work just like any other workers. Our “12 by 12 campaign” is building a global movement of domestic workers demanding justice for this forgotten category of workers. We urge all governments to extend labour laws to this sector” says Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of the ITUC .

Will Women Be Excluded From Booming e-Stonia?

By Daiva Repeckaite

Estonia has a very dynamic economy, a rising IT leader – it is often branded as e-Stonia – but it is also the country with the largest gender pay gap in the EU.  

According to the latest figures released by Eurostat, the pay gap reached 27 per cent, more than the double of neighbouring Latvia and Lithuania and well above the EU average of 16 per cent.

One of the reasons for this phenomenon is the concentration of women in underpaid professions, but also the confidentiality of salaries in the private sector negatively affects women, argues Kadri Aavik, from the Estonian Women’s Studies and Resource Centre (ENUT).  

Among the other factors, researchers mention gendered patterns in occupation choices, the incompatibility between demanding careers and family life, the double burden of paid work and household chores and workplace discrimination.  

The ILO’s Global Wage Report 2013 claimed that in Estonia changes in the gender pay gap are usually cyclical, increasing in times of growth and decreasing during recessions.  

Cycles, bargaining power and ethnicity  

There is not a big difference between the employment rates of women and men in the country.   Statistically, within the Baltic area, Estonian women are under less pressure to be carers and have a smaller leisure gap.

“Yet, childcare still weights disproportionately on women: according to a study commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs, parental leave is still unpopular among fathers, and is coupled with high costs of part-time work for the employers. ”

This situation pushes mothers of young children out of the labour market for a number of years.

Kadri Aavik also points out the ethnicity factor: ethnic Estonian men as a group earn the most whereas Russian-speaking women earn the least (Russian-speakers constitute about a quarter of the Estonian population).

Many Russian speakers in the Baltic States are concentrated in industrial jobs. Still, Eurostat data shows that the largest gender pay gap was in the finance and insurance sector – 41 per cent.

Sixteen per cent of working women have jobs in the education sector, but even in this women-dominated area they face a pay gap of 25 per cent. In manufacturing, the largest sector for Estonian men’s employment, women’s salaries are lower by a third.

Opaque salaries in private companies also decrease women’s bargaining power.

The EU-funded study Sooline palgalõhe Eestis (Gender Pay Gap in Estonia) issued some policy recommendations: strengthening employees’ representation through trade unions does help to mitigate the pay gap.

Also according to a 2011 OECD report, employment protection in Estonia was amongst the lowest.

Underpaid even when holding power

National statistics showed that Estonian men outnumbered women among legislators, senior officials and managers by 25 per cent, behind other Baltic States.

Aavik maintains that the proportion of women in managerial positions is still rather high (33-42 per cent), but the gap between the salaries of male and female managers is large (19-29 per cent) and tends to increase, reaching up 40 per cent. Also, it seems that managers have limited awareness of gender inequality issues.

“One might think that the prominence of the typically male-dominated IT sector in the Estonian economy can offer a partial explanation for this, but the sector employs just over three per cent of Estonian men and two per cent of women.”

For example, Skype, one of the leading global IT companies which started in Estonia, singles out a profile of female quality engineer on their Tallinn job pages, and emphasises the importance of a work environment that is supportive of families.

Vatican In Unholy Alliance at United Nations

8 March 2013: The ITUC has written to the Vatican calling on it to halt its campaign to stop the United Nations adopting stronger standards on violence against women at the UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York.

“It is shocking that the Vatican is leading an unholy alliance, with Iran, to stop the UN stepping up action to protect women and girls from violence,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “Hundreds of millions of women have experienced violence, assault and genital mutilation, and hundreds of millions more will if governments, led by the UN, fail to step up action. The idea that somehow ‘cultural or religious practices’ can be used as an excuse for violence, torture, mutilation or murder cannot be allowed to prevail in the modern era. We call on the Vatican and its government allies to drop their resistance to full protection for girls and women.”

Click here to read the letter to the Vatican.

The ITUC Urges the International Community to Act for the Protection of Women’s Rights and Their Defenders

6 March 2013: The ITUC fully supports the declaration presented yesterday by four Arab human rights organisations to the UN Human Rights Council and urges the international community to act for the protection of women’s rights and their defenders.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian New Woman Foundation, the Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women publicly denounced the continuous impunity for the cases of sexual harassment and rape recently witnessed in Egypt in the context of demonstrations. According to these organisations, the failure of the authorities to fulfil their responsibilities to secure public spaces for women results in marginalisation and restriction on their participation in public affairs

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, the ITUC pays tribute to all women’s rights’ defenders who played and continue to play a crucial role in the Arab uprising movements . “Women activists have been unique in linking up the demands for women’s rights to the ones for social justice and democracy. Their refusal to be cowed, their unshakeable self – confidence and their determination to continue the struggle despite the dangers, deserve our respect ” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC.

The ITUC stands in solidarity with the women’ movement in Libya who is struggling to ensure women’s representation in the upcoming Constituent Assembly as well as the inclusion of provisions supporting women’s rights in the new Libyan Constitution.

The ITUC Arab Women Network aims to strengthen the position of women in the region

Read oral intervention


27 February 2013 

Looking for a Ray of Joy in Spain

By Sharan Burrow

Last week, a story was picked up in the international media about the collapse of the Spanish real estate company Reyal Urbis owing banks, businesses and workers 4.75 billion US dollars.

It is the second biggest filing in Spain since property company Martinsa Fadesa defaulted on nearly 9.5 billion dollars of debt, precipitating the run on Spanish banks in 2008.  

Every day in Spain there are a hundred stories of businesses going to wall, job losses and pay cuts, which don’t make international headlines.  

Along with billions in debt, Reyal Urbis has left behind a ghost town of empty homes in Valdeluz, north west of Madrid. The town built for 30,000 people has come to represent the crisis in Spain.

“Like a house of cards builot on a Las Vegas gaming table, the speculative property market was the blackheart of the financial crisis in both Spain and Ireland”

In the boom years, thousands of young men were lured away from finishing high school to work in the lucrative construction industry.   Now they join the ranks of 56 per cent youth unemployment in Spain; one of the worst statistics filling the pages of economic briefings on leaders’ desks, leaving a lost generation of young people who may never fulfil their dreams from teenage years.

“The coordinated response to stem the global banking crisis saw trillions of dollars of public money transferred to the banks, while 84 per cent of people who lost their jobs had no unemployment protection.”

Many families have lost their jobs, even more their homes. Spain has the toughest mortgages laws in Europe – more than 400,000 people have been evicted since 2008.  

These staggering numbers stem from Spanish law which sees banks seizing both the house on which the mortgage payments cannot be made, as well as the collateral to guarantee the loan.  

For many parents in Spain it was commonplace to use their own homes as guarantees for their children to take the first step property ladder. Now parents on pensions and their jobless children are homeless.

” ‘For sale’ signs brand every other window in Madrid with the failure of austerity policies, like marks on the door warning of sickness inside medieval homes.”

Crisis of leadership  

From Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to the king’s son-in-law, Spain faces of a crisis of leadership, consumed by economic corruption and scandals born of greed.  

The ITUC global poll found only 13 per cent of people believe that as voters they have any influence on the economic decisions of democratically elected governments. In the space of just a few decades, Spain has moved from a military dictatorship to an economic dictatorship.

“Labour market reforms – dictated to countries by the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bankn troika, and accepted by the Rajoy government to calm the bond markets – have in an instant stripped away collective bargaining agreements and lowed wages.”

With wages making up the lowest part of national profit, these are ideological cuts which pit workers against bosses, and do nothing to kick start an ailing economy.  

Rajoy’s refrain of “we cannot spend what we don’t have” (used in nearly every speech from the Prime Minister) is monetarist policy in a sound bite.  

We cannot grow jobs without investment, we cannot grow economies if we don’t earn. There are economic alternatives.      


From a gathering of nearly 1000 workers in a packed hall in Madrid I heard the clamour for a plan, the shouts for hope.  

We know how to build economies. It requires investment in jobs. The biggest medium term multiplier is infrastructure.  

There is money to do just that. More than 21 trillion dollars sits in tax havens. Nearly seven trillion dollars is in corporate vaults of major companies, not being invested.

“The EU can borrow money at no interest and help with a jobs and growth plan. Banks could pay back some of the public money given to them.”

With pension funds, there is 25 trillion US dollars of workers capital invested in the global economy which is still going into hedge funds or speculative capital. This is money that could be spent in patient capital, in the real economy, in jobs.  

Global leaders and the G20 can find one trillion dollars to invest in infrastructure to create jobs; less than half of what was liberally handed to the banks.  

Meanwhile the havoc wreaked by austerity continues to take hold. This week France is asking Brussels for a budget reprieve and for the first time since 1978 the UK has lost its AAA credit rating.  

As I left Madrid, demonstrators once again took to the streets to protest against austerity and economic corruption.

“In the face of the misery vested on this country by the greed of the banks, the bond markets and the anti-worker ideology of the troika, people are determined to take a stand for their rights and their dignity.”

 Out of the fires of desperation, burn hope and solidarity.