ITUC World Women's Conference

Mich-Elle Myers, MUA representing women on the world stage

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in Brussels is holding its first World Women's Conference this week

 National Women's Liaison Officer Mich-Elle Myers is attending due to the commitment to the global women's movement that National Secretary Paddy Crumlin so avidly supports.

As Mich-Elle is the only Australian attending she is now also representing the ACTU.

ACTU Secretary Sharan Burrow opened the conference , entitled "Decent Work, Decent Life for Women"as ITUC president.

Mich-Elle will facilitate a workshop on "Gender equality through collective bargaining - elimination of discrimination through the inclusion of gender perspectives in agenda and equitable participation of women in negotiating terms."

The workshop will agree on the top five negotiating terms for agreements going forward that cover gender aspects and also formulate a project plan to achieve gender parity in trade unions.

"This is an important conference that comes at a crucial time when the world, still reeling from the effects of the financial crisis, begins to realise new opportunities and expectations going forward," said Mich-Elle. "Our participation once again confirms that the MUA is serious about gender issues and despite being a male dominated union we will punch above our weight and be recognised as a leader on the global stage especially when it comes to issues of such importance."

Mich-Elle is one of 450 women trade union delegates from 100 countries examining the impacts of the global jobs crisis on women and mapping out international trade union action to improve women's job security, pay and conditions.

ITUC Women's Committee Chair Diana Holland, who will preside over the Conference, said "Women all over the world are suffering the terrible effects of the global economic crisis. Shameful financial practices caused this crisis, not women workers, and as we come together for this first ITUC Women's Conference, it's time for women workers to be heard and their demands acted upon."

In her keynote address Sharan Burrow warned
women's job security, pay and conditions were likely to worsen because of global financial crisis.

The conference heard that around the world there has been a steady rise in precarious work for women in recent years, leaving many women in short-term jobs with low pay and little protection from exploitation, and lacking social security and pension entitlements.

Australia ranks a lowly 41 in the global index of women's workforce participation.

Women in full-time paid work earn 17% less than men, amounting to more than $1 million less over a lifetime, and will retire with less than half the amount of savings in their superannuation accounts than men.

In the past few years, the gender wage gap has grown from women earning 87 cents for each dollar earned by men in 2004, to 84 cents in 2007.

And a recent report by The Australia Institute found that women's participation in the workforce and their financial position will worsen as a result of the downturn caused by the Global Financial Crisis.

"Almost 40 years have passed since the Australian Industrial Relations Commission awarded equal pay for work of equal value, yet pay and workplace inequity has remained a stubborn feature of our labour market," Ms Burrow said.

Ms Burrow said lack of progress on women's rights in many parts of the world was a clear indictment of the free market model.

Women's disadvantaged and precarious position in labour markets makes them particularly vulnerable to lay-offs in economic downturns.

"There is now a danger that because of the financial crisis, we will see inequality for women and girls become embedded for generations to come.

"This will result in precarious work becoming the norm, more women dropping out of the labour force, and a widening pay gap.

"When security of work and incomes for women declines, family vulnerability rises dramatically."