Robert A. Georgine, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, has called on local construction unions to recruit "qualified female applicants" into the nearly all-male building trades.

Fewer than 1 per cent of all construction workers - ranging from 0.3 per cent of electricians to 3 per cent of painters - are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The only available figures include nonunion as well as union workers.

Complaints of sex discrimination by construction unions have been filed with the Labor Department, which has signaled an intention to crack down on discrimination by sex as well as race. But an aide to Georgine said he issued the anti-discrimination appeal without any immediate threat of government action, hoping to head off possible future action by voluntary compliance.

"Discrimination because of sex cannot be tolerated in the trade union movement any more than racial discrimination can be permitted," said Georgine, whose department represents 17 unions with 4.1 million members.

He said apprenticeship recruitment programs have increased the percentage of minority apprentices from 6.9 to 19 over the past decade and could do the same for women.

But he said quotas or other plans that would "impair the apprenticeship system and redyce the skills of journeymen craftsmen (are) unacceptable."

Georgine made the appeal - which an aide described as unusual if not unprecedented for a national labor chief to local union leaders - in a letter to officials of 383 local and 33 state construction trades councils.