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A weakening economy means greater challenges for women at the bargaining table. Today, nearly 500 women from across the country put their heads together to work on strategies to ensure that women and other equity-seeking groups are not left behind.

On its second day, the CUPE Bargaining Women’s Equality Conference broke into workshop groups to discuss challenges faced by all women in the workplace, and how to translate those challenges into demands at the bargaining table.

As Canada braces for an economic downturn and possible recession, employers are likely to seek layoffs, contracting out, and contract concessions. Today’s workshops focused on the following five areas that are critical for women’s equality: a decent living wage; retention of full-time jobs in the public sector; pension plan memberships for all members; improving the work/life balance; and the elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace.

A common concern among participants from many sectors was the loss of full-time jobs to part-time positions, casuals, and contracting out. “When one of our full-time workers retired, three people replaced her,” said one workshop participant.

It’s a vicious cycle,” commented a member who works in the education sector. “I see it compounding. First you lose the full time jobs, then the school boards have trouble recruiting, and then fewer families are attracted to the community.”

Many participants also worried about the connection between the rise in part-time work, and the decline of decent pensions. “It’s simple,” said a woman who works in the health sector. “The less you pay in, the less you get at the end. We must fight to get as many positions as possible returned to full time.”

In the workshops, participants were able to outline clear next steps for protecting full-time jobs and pensions in bargaining. These steps include: full seniority rights for all workers, conversion of part-time jobs to full-time jobs, replacement of full-time jobs with more full-time jobs, full benefits for full and part-time workers, an employment equity plan, and strong no contracting-out language. In addition, there was broad consensus that pension education for all members is essential.

A full time job empowers a woman, and when women are empowered, everybody wins – communities, families, everyone,” observed one participant as the day drew to a close. Most women in the room agreed they couldn’t have said it better themselves.