In the second of a series of articles, UNISON Scottish Secretary Mike Kirby lays out UNISON’s plan to get our members’ issues at the centre of the election debates.
A Monstrous Regiment of (117,000) Women
10 March 2014: The election on 7 May will be one of the most important in UNISON’s history, and activists have a key role in talking to members, particularly the 78% of members, or 117,000 women members in UNISON Scotland.
As workers, as carers, women have suffered during the economic crisis and they still struggle for equality in the workplace with male colleagues.
In the coming General Election, the number of women candidates may be on the increase but still sits at 38% across all parties in Scotland. While across the UK the number of women voting has been falling for years, the Referendum in Scotland reversed that trend.
There are just over eight weeks to go to the general election and it is likely to be one of the most important, and quite likely one of the closest, in UNISON’s history.
During the election campaign we will strive to keep UNISON policies and objectives fore and centre of the political debate. UNISON priorities are an end to Tory austerity, fair employment and trade union rights, pay and public services.
It’s an election where UNISON members’ votes could be decisive and it is why we need to be having conversations with our members now and for the coming weeks on the issues and what’s at stake.
In Scotland, the union has launched plans to recruit “1,000 influencers” to help in the campaign for public services. Could you be one?
SCOTLAND: Sign up to be one of our 1,000 influencers
Austerity is damaging people’s lives and health, hitting low-paid women hard, causing misery, risking a lost generation of young people who can’t find work, and creating greater levels of income inequality, which is bad for the economy, for those on the lowest incomes and for society in general.
85% of tax and benefit ‘savings’ have been at the expense of women. The Independent Inquiry Into Women and Jobseeker’s Allowance reported important findings about how JSA indirectly discriminates against women.
Overall, they note, “85 per cent of the revenue saved through changes to the tax and benefit system since 2010 has come from women (£22 billion), and 15 per cent from men (£4 billion).” They show that lone parents are hit hardest by far the cuts, losing 15.1 per cent of their disposable income; women account for 92 per cent of lone parents. What is more, single mothers lose around 16 per cent of their income compared with 12 per cent lost by single fathers.
45 years after Equal Pay legislation in the UK, UNISON is still having to campaign, negotiate and take legal action to pursue women’s rights to fair and equal pay. Women in the UK and Scotland still lose out from a persisting gender pay gap, but the recession has made things worse.
In research in August last year, The Fawcett Society found that nearly a million women have moved into types of employment that are typically low paid and insecure, with a surge in the number on zero hours contracts or ‘self-employed’, yet many would prefer secure full-time jobs.
There must be fair pay rises across the board, helping to restore living standards and eliminate in work poverty.
We must ensure equal pay is delivered to end this disgraceful discrimination against women, and we should increase the National Minimum Wage in stages to the Living Wage level and extend the Living Wage to all workers on public service contracts, particularly in social care.
We should end zero hours and short hours contracts and abolish tribunal fees, a barrier to justice at work.
We must campaign for an end to attacks on trade union facility time across all sectors. Increase workplace democracy and restore the right of 90 day consultation. Assist fair access to employment through enhanced childcare provision.
These are not “women’s issues” but central to building a fairer and more just society. UNISON Scotland’s NEC policy committee chair Jane Carolan added: “We need a million female members speaking up for public services because they care about the services they deliver and the services that they use.
“One million women demanding an alternative can make a difference. One million women demanding change equals hope.”
(The title is taken from a work by John Knox, published in 1558, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regimen of Women. Knox used the word regimen in a now archaic sense, meaning government or regime, and his book was written against the female sovereigns of his day, particularly Mary I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots.)