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Widespread discrimination and occurrences of child labour in Europe
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Tuesday, 23 July 2002
Brussels 23 July, 2002 (ICFTU OnLine): Salary discrimination against women of up to 35% still exists across Europe, according to a new report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) which highlights "pronounced gender differences in the labour market." The report also finds "unacceptable exploitation of children" occurring in most countries to some degree, "mainly in the informal sector and in agriculture." The 24 July report- an evaluation of respect for the ILO core labour standards in the 15 countries of the EU- is produced to coincide with the 24-26 July WTO trade policy review of Europe. All EU member states have ratified both the main ILO Conventions in the area of discrimination and equal remuneration. However, in all the member states, gender differences are still very pronounced in the labour market. Whilst women in the UK may be the worst off with an earnings gap between men and women at nearly 25%, women across Europe have little cause for celebration. Women workers are concentrated in low-paid work, part-time work and other forms of atypical employment which have increased over the past twenty years, mainly in the service sector. These factors mean that the gender pay gap has been highly resistant to change.
In Belgium the net average salary for a woman is only 84 percent of the national average, while in Finland this figure is as low as 81%. Equally shocking are the findings from a recent government investigation of sexual harassment which determined that one out of three women is harassed sexually in the Belgian workplace. There is also a tendency for women to be employed on temporary contacts and part-time; for example the Finnish trade union AKAVA notes that 53 per cent of women in Finland under 30 years of age with a degree are employed on temporary and fixed-term contracts, as opposed to 33 per cent of men.

The ICFTU report also notes that "while child labour is not widespread in Europe, unacceptable exploitation of children is occurring in most - if not all - countries to some degree, mainly in the informal sector and in agriculture."

Although "confirmed incidents are steadily falling," in Portugal many children work between 10-14 hours a day in the tourism, textile, construction and clothing industries in particular. Some start at 7 am and return at 11 pm or midnight. They often work in illegally established enterprises and are fired when they get older. There are reports that some of these children are abused by employers and many suffer serious mental and psychological damage.
But child labour is far from limited to Portugal, and the ICFTU report draws attention to child labour in Spain, France, Greece and Italy. In the UK, a number of surveys carried out over the past ten years have found that around 40 per cent of children aged between 13-15 have some type of part-time employment which is usually unregistered, and often illegal. One study in North-east England by the Low Pay Unit found that 44% of children at work had suffered an accident during their employment, and that a quarter of the children at work were under 13. Child prostitution is also a major problem in the UK and a common source of income for homeless children.

Although in the minds of most Europeans, forced labour may be a phenomenon associated with North Korean Gulags and the worst excesses of dictatorship, according to the ICFTU report it is a practice that continues on their doorsteps. In Germany, some prisoners are hired to private enterprises without their formal consent, without social security coverage and receiving wages of only 5% of the market rate. In Greece, a state of emergency law was recently used by the government to force striking seafarers, under threat of imprisonment or financial penalty, to return to work. Worst of all, the report finds that "in virtually all EU countries, trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of forced prostitution is a problem."

"Although it is very welcome that at long last, every EU country has ratified the 8 core ILO conventions, there is clearly a difference in Europe between good quality legislation and the reality of discrimination against women and violation of the rights of children and prisoners amongst others," explains Collin Harker, author of the report.

Source: ICFTU. The ICFTU represents more than 157 million workers in 225 affiliated organisations in 148 countries and territories. ICFTU is also a member of Global Unions: http://www.global-unions.org
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