Tuesday, August 4, 2020

New bill: a women quota for jackhammer

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AThere is no gender equality on German construction sites: According to estimates, less than one percent of women who build scaffolding, process concrete, raise walls and roof roofs are women. It is similar in mining. But for the so-called self-governing bodies of social insurance, a mandatory quota for women should apply throughout – namely 40 percent. This is envisaged in a new bill with which Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil (SPD) wants to change the processes of the six-year social security elections.

The project is based on the controversial “parity laws” for state elections in Thuringia and Brandenburg, which have now been questioned by a constitutional court ruling. Only lists of candidates with half women should be allowed to vote there. The draft law on social choice provides: “Proposal lists must contain at least 40 percent female and 40 percent male applicants.” Otherwise, the relevant groups would be excluded from the election.

“This will sustainably promote the goal of gender equality,” says the draft presented to the FAZ. Since such quotas are “encroachments on general principles of electoral law”, they would be set at 40 percent for the social elections “for reasons of proportionality”. The coalition of the Union and the SPD even introduced such a requirement for board members of health insurance companies in 2019. In fact, it would now be extended to pension and accident insurance. In addition to the fundamental question of how democratic such a thing is, another problem arises especially in accident insurance. Because, unlike the other social insurance schemes, it is organized with its professional associations (BG) by industry. And in some industries, the gender distribution is very uneven – such as in construction.

The planned gender quota “can lead to the fact that the establishment of corresponding lists in the elections of the BG Bau will be impossible,” warns Heribert Jöris, managing director of the Central Construction Federation ZDB. The proportion of women among construction workers can be estimated at around 10 percent overall, as women are more common in the administrations of construction companies. Nevertheless, says Jöris, the quota “does not lead to an image of the gender distribution in the industry, but to a distortion”.

In the case of the professional associations, the consequences go even further: Even if it were difficult to find enough women for the committees, these would not be predestined for central self-government tasks – this includes accident prevention when using jackhammer, asphalt machines and similar sources of danger. The principle that candidates “should be selected based on their expertise, experience or trust would be turned upside down,” says Jöris. It is even more difficult than for the employee side to compile a list that is proportionate for the employer side. In principle, a condition for a candidature is the employer status. The selection of women is particularly small among business owners in the medium-sized construction sector. In the end, employers threatened to lose their voting rights in accident insurance – even though this is financed solely by their contributions.

The coalition’s goal was actually to make the low-participation social elections more attractive. To this end, the Union and SPD had passed a long law in May after a long tug of war, which for the first time allowed social elections in 2023 as well as postal elections and online elections for the first time – with the aim of finally increasing participation by more than 30 percent, which was not the case in 2017 despite intensive advertising was successful. However, since the content of a social electoral reform is not defined in more detail in the coalition agreement, depending on the perspective, the planned quota could also be summarized below: One wants to “strengthen self-government and modernize the social elections together with the social partners”, it says.

However, Heil’s draft law also contains an indication that his ministry has at least taken note of the judgment of the Thuringian Constitutional Court against the Landtag election law there in mid-July: The passages on the social election quota are in the draft, which also contains other changes in social law, initially put in square brackets. The bill is on the federal cabinet’s schedule for the end of August.

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