UNISON will put equalities at the heart of its bargaining agenda and will campaign with the TUC and through Labour Link for facility time for equality reps. Conference recognised that austerity has rolled back equality successes and significantly increased workplace inequality.
Supporting the motion on Friday on behalf of the NEC, Scotland’s Davena Rankin said, “Maya Angelou once said: ‘It is impossible to struggle for civil rights, equal rights for Blacks, without including whites. Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us have it. That is the truth of it.’”
Since the election of the coalition government in 2011, equalities have been under sustained attack. “Cameron’s legacy will be one of increased inequality and reduced access to justice for workers,” slammed Davena.
She told conference that equality reps were uniquely placed to promote fairness in our workplaces – able to raise the equality agenda with their colleagues, their employers and within UNISON.
“They can help to support and encourage employers to make equality and diversity part of mainstream collective bargaining and policy development.”
She pointed out, however, that their value shines through when they are working with vulnerable workers and working to ensure that every worker receives fair treatment irrespective of gender, race, disability, religion, age, gender reassignment or sexual orientation and called for equality reps to be properly supported and recognised.
“Despite the playing such a vital role in our workplaces, equality reps have no legal right to time off to undertake their trade union equality duties.
“This matter is especially important for UNISON given that 78% of our members are women, a significant number of whom are low paid. The lack of equality facility time is therefore indirectly discriminatory as responsibility for caring for children and relatives still fall in the main to women making a work, life, trade union balance exceptionally challenging.”
UNISON’s own work on Challenging Racism in the Workplace has found that for Black activists, the lack of equality time hinders their ability to challenge discrimination. The lack of equality time also lowers the profile and protection of disability and LGBT equality work and Davena warned that this threatens to undermine the trade union movement’s historic achievements.
TUC research has shown that the lack of facility time severely limited the effectiveness of the reps, even though equality reps greatly enhance employers’ equalities work and have a positive impact in the workplace to the extent that even some employers recognise their importance.
“It also found that the role of equality rep was a first step for many members on their journey to becoming an activist,” said Davena’
“UNISON has been at the forefront in campaigning for equality facility time. The NEC believes that it is essential that equality reps have recognised facility time to do this important work and ask that you join with us to take the fight for statutory recognition for our equality reps to the government.
“Maya Angelou once said, ‘We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.’ We must continue this fight for recognition until we win.”