The Global Deal

International Women’s Day: Advancing gender equality in the labour market – a discussion with Global Deal partners - Esther Lynch


8 March 2021 - To mark the occasion of the International Women’s Day, Esther Lynch, Deputy General Secretary of the European Confederation of Trade Unions (ETUC), shares her views on how to advance gender equality in the labour market.

Read the full interview and find out what piece of advice these 3 inspiring women would give to young women entering the labour market:

Esther Lynch, Deputy General Secretary of the European Confederation of Trade Unions (ETUC)

Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International

Jane Rexworthy, Executive Director of People 1st International


Esther Lynch, Deputy General Secretary of the European Confederation of Trade Unions (ETUC)

“Can you share some good examples of how social dialogue can further gender equality?”

Unions are key actors when it comes to putting concrete solutions and improvements for women workers on the table. New Zealand showed us very recently that collective bargaining is a crucial tool towards substantial change and real progress on gender equality: The New Zealand Equal Pay Act, amended in 2020, is a best practice example when it comes to equal pay for work of equal value. In New Zealand, the new Equal Pay Act empowers unions to raise and represent workers in equal pay claims with employers and to settle them in collective or individual bargaining. In addition, access to information on criteria for deciding pay levels for unions is ensured. The ETUC will fight for similar provisions to be included in the recent proposal for a Pay Transparency Directive, put forward by the European Commission.


“According to your experience, what is the top priority to advance gender equality in the labour market?”

While it is a difficult task to identify top priorities among the many challenges women workers face, the gender pay gap and more specifically the historical undervaluation of jobs predominantly done by women is a pressing issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to the world who is doing essential work in our societies: It is cleaners and carers, predominantly women, who keep our societies afloat and who show up to work every day, despite the fact that the real value of their work is not reflected on their pay checks. This is why the ETUC is very committed to introducing binding rules on pay transparency, including a clear enforcement of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value that empowers unions to address this issue via collective bargaining. Pay transparency means that workers and their unions are provided with information about all the pay, bonuses and additional benefits paid throughout the  organisation, it provides information on the tasks and skills relevant to job evaluation for the purpose of establishing equal pay for work of equal value. It guarantees that workers are free to discuss their pay and gagging clauses and threats against workers who discuss their pay are prevented. Whereas the Commission has brought forward a proposal for a Directive on Pay Transparency on 4 March, the ETUC will make sure that this proposal will become a game changer, providing unions and workers with the adequate tools to finally eradicate deep-seated bias about the value of jobs.

For International Women’s Day, the ETUC is focusing on yet another issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic: Violence and harassment at work. We observe a similarly worrying trend to the sky-rocketing figures of domestic violence against women, namely online harassment targeting women workers in home-office and offline violence, e.g. aggressive clients that assault frontline workers. In light of the fact that neither employers, nor legislators and law enforcement bodies do enough to tackle violence and harassment at work, the ETUC calls for the ratification of the ILO Convention 190 on the 8 March and beyond.


“What piece of advice would you give to young women entering the labour market?”

To join a union. Organising with your work colleagues is the proven way to get more of a say over what happens at work, including better hours of work, more secure contracts, longer holidays, more sick pay and, although it’s a long way off, a pension. Union workplaces are safer, have less accidents and less discrimination, less harassment and less bullying. And on top of all of that unionised workplaces have higher pay, too. 

Unions have got your back. Not only will they give you information about your rights, they will defend your rights, too. If your employer treats you unfairly, you can rely on support and expert representation from your union. A trade union rep is a trusted person to turn to when you’re unhappy at work or management is behaving badly. And, as the workplace is transformed by automation and robotics, trade unions are demanding training, lifelong learning and social protection for workers to transition to the new world of work. 

Collective bargaining is a feminist issue. By working together with your colleagues, you can make your workplace better, more equal and empowering.


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