Speech by UITBB General Secretary at the Women’s Seminar in Bangladesh
Dear Colleagues of NCWF,
It is a great honour and privilege to see all of you, in this meeting on women in the construction industry and to have a discussion on how we can improve in a practical way, the role and position of women. It is with great pleasure that I see all these women present, which is not a usual sight in western countries, since, unfortunately, there are not many women who work in the construction industry.
Allow me to begin by thanking NCWF and its leadership, for the organisation of this women’s meeting. I would also like to thank all the esteemed guests who are honouring this meeting with their presence. I am certain that the discussion that will follow, with all of us present here, as well as the discussion and the resolutions, will be very helpful in improving the situation of women in the construction industry.
I would like to say a few things about our international organisation, UITBB. The Trades Union International of Workers of the Building, Wood and Building Materials Industries, UITBB, is the oldest international union representing more than 10 million workers in the construction industry in countries around the globe and in all continents. We are a militant, progressive, international union whose aim is to improve the living and working conditions of the workers around the world, as well as the creation of a deep sense of international solidarity, because we firmly believe that the problems the workers all over the world are facing are the same, and so should be the solutions.
We are proud to have accepted as full members in our ranks the National Construction Workers Federation in Bangladesh – NCWF during our latest, 17th Congress in Athens, Greece in 2020. Since then, under the leadership of Mohammad Zakir Hossain Litu, General Secretary, NCWF has been one of our most active unions in Bangladesh and in Asia-Pacific in general, participating in all international activities of UITBB on a number of issues. The successful organisation of today’s meeting on the issue of women in the construction industry, is just the latest example of this cooperation, which I am certain that it will continue in the future. Our cooperation goes a long way to strengthen UITBB’s presence in the country and in the area in general, to showcase the work that is being done on a global and local level for the workers and, ultimately, it is our hope that this meeting as well as all of our future activities, will help the workers, and especially women, to improve their working and living conditions, by sharing our experiences with you and by listening to your experiences.
Women have historically been doubly marginalised, once due to their gender and once because they belong to the working class. They have always been asked not only to work but also to raise their families and care for their children at home. So, it is more difficult for them to work in such a physically demanding environment like construction sites and, consequently, there is even more need to help them in any way possible.
UITBB’s Action Plans have always paid extreme importance to gender issues, as we believe that women are one of the most vulnerable group of workers and they need our attention even more. As members of the World Federation of Trade Unions WFTU, every year, we organise and/or participate in all activities concerning women, such as the Working Women Day on March 8, we organise special seminars on gender issues around the world, such as the one today and we plan, along with our member-organisations around the world, activities for the improvement of the position of women in the construction industry, which are summarised in one sentence, which is our slogan for the day as well: “Equal Rights for Women in the Construction Industry”.
All of UITBB’s actions, events, and efforts have been directed towards improving the working conditions of people, and especially women, in the construction industry. We are aware of the different characteristics in various countries around the world, but at the same time, we believe that the problems of the workers are the same as they are all being exploited. This means that we should propose solutions which are relevant to every worker.
My colleague from the Women’s Office of UITBB will discuss these issues in more detail, but I would like to briefly present here, UITBB’s long-standing demands for women workers. We believe they provide a framework which can help women in the construction industry. At the same time, we need to mention that the industry itself can benefit a great deal from the presence of women. What we must all focus on regarding women, is the following:
- Equal pay for men and women. It is inconceivable for women who do the exact same work as men, who work the exact same hours, and have the same responsibilities, to get paid less. This creates a sense of injustice while not allowing women to give as much as they can and it hinders development and growth.
- Signing of collective agreements. The signing of collective agreements following collective bargaining, can strengthen the importance of unionising, can get you better working conditions and will give the worker the necessary bargaining which, individually, he or she does not have.
- Decent wages. Wages should not just allow workers to survive and work another day but they should allow the man or woman worker to live with dignity, provide a decent living to his/her family without worrying what to feed his/her children every single day.
- Longer annual leaves and shorter working times. As women are the primary caretakers, a longer annual leave and shorter working time with the same pay, will allow them to contribute to development and growth as valuable members of the working force, but will also allow them to properly care for their families
- Early retirement. Again, if women in the construction industry retire at an earlier stage with all their benefits, they can enjoy the remaining of their lives in dignity, while let us not forget that since this is a physically very demanding profession, women cannot work until very late in their lives.
- Protection at the workplace. Women are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment at work and they are the most common victims of discrimination because of their gender. We demand full protection at the workplace of women from such phenomena, so that women will not be scared to enter the industry.
- Healthy working environment. As women have special hygiene needs, the employer must ensure that they have access to proper, sanitary facilities at work.
I believe that the fighting spirit of those pioneer women who, in 1857, rose up in New York’s textile mills, and went on strike, demonstrating for better working conditions, is still alive today in every one of you. 165 years later, the fight of women who started with the blood of those pioneer women, is more relevant than ever, and it is up to all of us to continue fighting. In the spirit of international solidarity, we need to put a stop to the exploitation of the female labour power, honouring the revolutionary legacy and sacrifice of those women.
I assure you that UITBB will always be on your side, helping you in any way possible. This meeting is only the first step. Let us all follow in the footsteps of pioneer women such as Begum Rokeya and Begum Sufia Kamal, the icons of women’s freedom in South Asia, and fight for better living and working conditions for all of us and our families.
I would like to finish by thanking the leadership of NCWF for organising such a successful seminar and of course I would like to thank you for your participation. I am certain that what we learn here will help us in our daily work.
Long live women workers!
Long live UITBB!