Equity bargaining is about ensuring that collective bargaining is used as a tool to promote equity in the workplace and address the entrenched misconceptions about the role of women workers. The trade union negotiator aims to extend the bargaining agenda to include the issues that reflect the intersection of the private area of family/home and the public area of work.
Engaging our constituency to identify demands
People join the union as holistic beings and, in striving to understand our constituency, we ask questions and engage in discussions. These allow us to understand what people are thinking and saying, what they are feeling and what they are willing to do.
It is important to create safe spaces for your constituency to speak openly and honestly about their fears and aspirations.
The bargaining team (the 'who')
We all want “strong representation” on the bargaining team, but what does this actually mean?
- A strong bargaining team not only understands the issues affecting all workers in the workplace but is also willing to challenge the gender stereotypes that they and others hold.
- A strong team is one that is sensitive, empathetic and willing to address the needs and conditions of women workers and all other marginalised groups in the workplace.
- It is key to include women in the bargaining team, but not as silent partners. In order to have active and outspoken women in the bargaining teams, there first needs to be a process of dealing with the internalised gender stereotype of “only men can be leaders”. Both women and men fall prey to this stereotype. When workers only see men in leadership, they assume men are naturally better leaders. Having women in bargaining teams, therefore, challenges this stereotype.
Preparing for bargaining
1. Assigning roles
A bargaining team is elected at the beginning of the bargaining process. At this stage, we need to be conscious of not assigning roles based on gender stereotypes. If for example, we assume women are not good spokespersons or only capable of administrative roles, we might assign them the role of minute takers as a result. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the more you silence women, the more silent they become.
2. Planning and strategising
Women workers need a space and opportunity to identify and rally around the issues that affect them as women workers. In meetings and discussions, union leaders can:
- Speak to women about the issues in the workplace and union that affect them;
- Make a short list of the things that matter most to women workers;
- Identify where, when and how these issues might be different from those that affect male workers.
3. The WHERE and HOW
The choice of venue or online platform for negotiations sets a psychological tone to the negotiation process, and it is therefore important that specific needs and conditions of all members of the team are taken into account. For example, members of the team living with disabilities might need special conditions to ensure their full participation e.g. wheelchair ramps and disabled-friendly toilets. Women members of the bargaining team will need to feel and know that they can access their venue safely and that they will not be faced with security challenges.
4. The WHEN
There is an argument that timelines and deadlines are necessary to create a sense of urgency and ‘push’ bargainers to agreements. Timeframes need to take into account the home and care work that women workers particularly carry the responsibility for. Meetings that carry on after work and late into the evenings will often have implications for the involvement of women in the bargaining teams.
5. The ILO suggests some helpful steps in the ongoing fight for equal rights:
- Promoting gender equality in employment doesn’t end with the signing of a collective agreement. Follow up to ensure the awarded rights are implemented.
- Ensure that the negotiated policies, rights and benefits are communicated to all workers, including non-permanent workers.
- Collect data regularly to monitor the number of women and men that are hired, promoted and dismissed, as well as the number of workers in all job categories, salary levels and training programmes.
- Regularly monitor the implementation and effectiveness of collective bargaining policies, rights and benefits. Think forward to what can be achieved during the next round of collective bargaining.
- Deal with equality issues in education and training programmes.
- Publicise the work your union has done on behalf of women as an organising strategy. Also, publicise the union’s objectives for bargaining and the strategies for achieving them.