‘Collective Bargaining and Gender Equality’ (Pillinger and Wintour) – a review

Date Posted: Thursday 27th February 2020

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A book review of:

Collective Bargaining and Gender Equality. Jane Pillinger and Nora Wintour, 2019.

Publisher: Agenda Publishing

by Sarah Small

[We would like to thank Agenda Publishing for generously providing us with a copy Collective Bargaining and Gender Equality for review.]


With their book Collective Bargaining and Gender Equality, Jane Pillinger and Nora Wintour bring their deep expertise on collective bargaining to The Gendered Economy series. The book contributes to a wide literature on trade unions and membership-based workers’ organisations by using gendered lens to holistically understand how collective action can improve the lives of women around the world.

After a brief introduction in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 discusses seven interrelated preconditions necessary for collective bargaining to have gender equal outcomes. Figure 2.1 is useful here (p 10), as it outlines the seven preconditions: (1) strong social dialogue structures, (2) supportive legislation on gender equality, (3) extending the scope of bargaining agreements to cover more women workers, (4) progressive social policy and fiscal framework, (5) government willingness to address structural inequalities and women’s unpaid care work, (6) gender responsive internal policies within trade unions, and (7) women’s representation in union decision-making. I am a big fan of this type of framework, as it clearly indicates that each individual precondition is necessary but not sufficient in achieving gender equality through collective bargaining strategies. For instance, women’s representation in union decision making is not alone sufficient. As bell hooks (2010, p. 170) has written, “patriarchy has no gender”: the inclusion of women in leadership spaces does not necessarily mean that women leaders will lobby for gender equal policy. For this reason, the authors are sure to specify that these preconditions are necessary, but never claim them to be sufficient on their own, or even in their totality.

Pillinger and Wintour expand upon several of these seven preconditions throughout the book. For instance, Chapter 4 is devoted to discussion on extending the scope of collective bargaining strategies to cover more women workers, especially those in precarious or informal work. The authors discuss the challenges to collective bargaining presented by informal work arrangements, lamenting that in many of these sectors, “it is difficult to identify an appropriate employee or employers’ organization, such as a local authority, with which to negotiate” (p. 111). Nonetheless, the authors provide several case studies in which trade unions have extended collective bargaining to those in informal or precarious work, and many of these examples come from the Global South. The examples from this chapter are perhaps most useful, in that they speak to an ever-changing economy and how collective action can successfully change along with it. Ultimately, Chapter 4 works quite nicely to supplement the third precondition described in Chapter 2, while focusing on geographic regions otherwise somewhat underrepresented in the rest of the book.

Most of the seven preconditions are explained in great depth, either in Chapter 2 or in other sections of Pillinger and Wintour’s book. However, the precondition “quality public services and progressive social policy and fiscal frameworks” (p. 20) is somewhat underdeveloped. Based on the authors’ discussion of this fourth precondition in Chapter 1, it seems that this includes, for instance, free or subsidised childcare provision, paid parental leave, provisions of public services and quality infrastructure, social protection floors, and progressive national tax reforms. However, many portions of the books include illustrations of unions fighting for these very such things. To me, including this as a precondition seems like a bit of a chicken-before-the-egg type of argument. Perhaps instead of requiring these public provisions and fiscal frameworks as a precondition to achieving gender equality through collective action, the authors might consider discussing the symbiotic relationship between these policies and collective bargaining efforts.

In general, the authors arguments throughout the book are well structured. When explaining the ways in which collective bargaining may improve gender equality, Pillinger and Wintour typically provide some poignant success stories: specific examples from several countries and sectors which provide a brief road map for improving the lives and capabilities of working women. However, the authors are also skilled in removing their rose-coloured glasses. Pillinger and Wintour always seem to level with the reader by offering a clear discussion of related nuances and challenges. For instance, in their discussion on closing the gender pay gap through collective bargaining, the authors inform readers that “employers’ demands for cost neutral adjustments have often meant the pay gap is given less priority in bargaining for fear of wage leveling down” (p 37). But Pillinger and Wintour also share a success story from Norway, where narrowing the pay gap was achieved by focusing bargaining strategies on raising wages in female-dominated occupations. In the same section, the authors provide another example from trade unions in Uruguay, which negotiated a job evaluation system aiming to eliminate salary differences between genders.

Throughout the book, the authors illustrate solutions forged by creative trade unions and workers’ groups to help readers, leaders, and policymakers circumvent obstacles which get in the way of achieving gender equality through collective bargaining. This book may also be useful in classrooms. For instance, the authors’ brief and digestible discussion of global framework agreements (p. 118) would be a useful springboard for discussion in any undergraduate level course discussing trade, globalisation, or gender. Ultimately, the book is useful for those interested in new and creative collective bargaining strategies, and for those looking to understand how collective action, gender equality, and public policy intertwine.


hooks, bell. (2010). Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. Routledge.

Pillinger, J., & Wintour, N. (2019). Collective bargaining and gender equality. Agenda Publishing.

Sarah is a PhD student in economics at Colorado State University. Her research interests are in feminist economics, public policy, and the history of economic thought.