02.03.2020

Transforming trade unions: Paving the way for gender equality in Chile

Gender inequality continues to become prevalent, even in seemingly progressive structures like trade unions. FES Chile tells the story of a group of women who took the initiative to introduce gender equality supporting mechanisms into their traditionally male trade union. Learn how this paved the way for even bigger movements in Chile.

  • Participants of the campaign by FES Chile and Sintracap on formalizing domestic work largely fronted by women. Photo from FES Chile.
    Participants of the campaign by FES Chile and Sintracap on formalizing domestic work largely fronted by women. Photo from FES Chile.

In trade unions and their federations, women are still under-represented. Nonetheless, there are various possibilities how to work towards more gender equality in the world of work, both within and through trade unions.

To this end, volunteers and members of Chilean trade unions handed out fliers with information on rights and duties for employees and employers and also specifically migrant workers at strategic metro stations early in the morning to spread awareness. This was combined with a multimedia campaign on social media, underlining the benefits, like maternal leave, protection from arbitrary termination of the working relationship, right to vacations and minimum wage or social security benefits.

Ignorance about legal regulations and possibilities, for example putting clauses on parental leave on the agenda in collective bargaining or using international mechanisms, is often a major obstacle. Trainings on these topics can raise awareness of these possibilities and give women in particular the right tools to strengthen their position within unions.

Typically, the impulse to address issues related to gender equality within trade unions comes from their female members. In Chile the FES supported one such effort initiated by the women of the trade union of metalworkers, a traditionally male sector. In several sessions, male and female union members learned about gender clauses in collective bargaining, international mechanisms supporting gender equality, sexual harassment at work, the gender pay gap, and how to address these topics in their trade union.

After a successful first version, this was turned into a school for female leaders by the Chilean trade union federation, bringing women from different regions to the capital to learn about these topics to become multipliers in their respective trade unions. A manual on gender clauses in collective bargaining served as an important input on both occasions. The manual had been drawn up by FES earlier in response to changes in legislation, to give more room to these issues. Another new tool on the agenda for 2020 is the Convention 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment at work. This was adopted by the annual conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2019, and has already been taken up by global trade union federations.

Despite the persisting masculinization of trade unions, in some of them women constitute the majority of affiliates. One example is the trade union of household employees in Chile, which consists of almost 100 percent women. This employment sector is marked by informality and exploitation, especially of migrant workers. Despite efforts like the ILO Convention 189, strengthening the rights of these workers, in Chile and internationally their situation has been improving very slowly if at all. The establishment of a formal relation between employer and employee is critical to assure that the labour rights of workers in this area are respected and can be enforced. This is why the campaign organized by FES in Chile and the household worker union targeted exactly this aspect: Inform workers in this sector and employers about their rights and duties towards each other, specifically regarding the advantages of formalizing the working relationship between both parties.

Read more on the campaign with household workersor have a look at the FES Chile manual on gender clauses in collective bargaining (both in Spanish).

About the Author

Sarah Herold coordinates the regional feminist project ‘FESminismos - The Future is Feminist’ in Latin America initiated by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in 2017, which focuses on feminist economics. As part of her role in the FES Chile, she has organized and participated in various feminist roundtables and events.

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