This article, first published in December 2017 in El Pulso, a daily newspaper in Chile, discusses attempts in recent labour reforms to address the current gender gap in union participation and management.

By: Marcela Salazar

Firm: Munita & Olavarría  

The Labor Reform of Law N° 20,940, which came into force on 1 April 2017, includes provisions with a gender focus, establishing a minimum percentage of representation to promote the presence of women on union boards, as well as requiring the presence of at least one woman on negotiating committees during collective bargaining processes. The objective of these changes is to integrate women into a mostly male-dominated activity, which union-related business currently is. Frequently, women become affiliated to unions, but the power within those unions is held by men without allowing women a role. Although the focus of this new law appears correct, we believe that it also needs to be accompanied by cultural change. In order for that to occur, the authorities must promote equal participation and respect for the role of women within union organisations.

In order to achieve this, a quota system for women’s participation in the Board of the Union has been established, whereby unions must incorporate a mechanism of integration into their bylaws guaranteeing that at least a third of the board members who hold immunity are women. Alternatively, if women make up less than 30% of the union, then the number of women board members must be proportional to that percentage.

For this purpose, before any election process the union’s bylaws must calculate what is described as the ‘factor of women’s participation’ within the organisation. If the factor of women’s participation is equal to or greater than 0.33, at least a third of the positions must be filled by women board members and if the factor is less than 0.33, women’s participation in union management must be proportional to the percentage of union affiliation of women workers in the organisation. The law also includes a quota system for women’s participation in the Boards of Federation and Union Confederations.

With regards to the presence of women on negotiating committees during collective bargaining processes, the law seeks to guarantee that at least one woman is part of the committee. In order for that to happen the following rules apply:

  • First any mechanism for appointment set out in the union’s bylaws applies.
  • In the absence of provisions in the bylaws, a woman who is a union member should be selected. In the case of micro and small companies, the law provides that one of the men who should be part of the committee will be replaced by a woman.

Without a doubt for these changes to become effective, women need to show an interest in participating in union management. Indeed, there is no substitute for women demonstrating their interest, since in the absence of candidates, the quota participation system does not apply by default. Likewise, if there are no women members of the union who are interested in being part of the negotiating committee in a collective bargaining process, the committee will be formed without any women.

The labour reform seeks to change the ‘masculine’ structure currently in place within unions through quotas for female participation, and thus, to facilitate the building of a new organisational structure culture in unions, in which women have equal status with men. However this will only be possible if women themselves take part in these organisations. Without their participation, the law will be useless.

This article, first published in December 2017 in El Pulso , a daily newspaper in Chile