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Gendered lens on new technology and Covid-19’s impact on the public transport sector needed: ITF Forum

news 13 Oct 2020

Covid-19 is exacerbating longstanding issues for women working in the transport industry and a gendered analysis of the pandemic’s impact on the public transport sector is needed, sector representatives have said.

Exposure to gender-based violence in the workplace, safe access to sanitation facilities, automation, and the gender-segregated nature of the transport industry will continue to disproportionately impact women transport workers, said participants at an online forum organised by ITF in October.

The forum brought together over 45 women workers in public transport to discuss the introduction of new technology in response to Covid-19 and explore the gendered impacts of automation and digitalisation in public transport. Participants included women leaders and activists from urban transport unions in Bangkok, Nairobi, Mexico City and Bogotá.

“Covid-19 has brought about an accelerated introduction of automation and other technology as part of new health and safety measures in public transport – particularly the shift to cashless payment systems. In a highly gendered sector this will hit women transport workers the hardest,” said Wol-san, Vice-Chair of the Urban Transport Committee and the forum’s chair.

Reports included now only having one worker where previously there would have been up to five workers selling tickets. Often found in customer-facing roles, women are also at greater risk of being exposed to Covid-19 while helping passengers with machines due to inadequate personal protective equipment, or of being subjected to public anger when technology fails.

“The future of work will become even more pressing as the transport industry adapts to the new reality of the pandemic, which risks further disadvantaging women in the sector. It’s crucial employers and unions take action to protect and enhance women transport workers’ rights,” said Wol-san.

A 2019 ITF report highlighted how women’s jobs in transport are more likely to be vulnerable to the impacts of automation and digitalisation. For example, new technology is reducing roles, either partially or completely, that women dominate in the passenger transport industry, such as ticket sales and customer service roles.

In the context of Covid-19, the forum reviewed the demands on automation developed in 2019 as part of skills development workshops with unions in Bangkok, Bogota and Mexico City. The union demands relating to automation focus on three key aspects highlighted in the key findings of the ITF report, namely:

- relocation agreements
- training and skills
- health and safety

Participants highlighted positive developments where unions have successfully negotiated protections or expanded opportunities for women workers. In Mexico City, for example, women are being redeployed and retrained for other roles, and there are opportunities for women as drivers in the new electric articulated trolleybus system. Meanwhile in Nairobi negotiations are taking place to maintain women’s employment with the introduction of cashless payment systems. Following the introduction of new ticket machines in Bangkok in the bus sector, the union has submitted demands to management to protect women’s employment through training for women to access new roles in the sector.

The forum, funded by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), is part of the final stage of the ITF/FES project on ‘Future of work and new developments for women in public transport: strengthening unions to deliver just transition.’ The project aims to develop an analysis on the impact of automation and digitalisation on the future of work for women, and to build the knowledge and skills of ITF unions and women as leaders to influence these new developments.

The ITF has identified nine key areas for action by employers, governments and investors for women transport workers in the Covid-19 response and recovery. ITF’s People’s Public Transport Policy meanwhile provides a vision for a social model of public transport.