Terminally ill workers must have legal protections

Jane Aitchison
Jane Aitchison

Delegates were shocked that workers with a terminal illness are not covered by equalities law and have limited legal protection from dismissal due to illness, which then results in the loss of death in service benefits.

Conference gave its full backing to South Lanarkshire’s motion calling for support for the TUC’s Dying to Work Campaign and pledged to lobby for new legislation to protect the rights of workers who are terminally ill.

Moving the motion, South Lanarkshire’s Jane Aitchison asked delegates to imagine what it would feel like to be diagnosed with a terminal illness… unimaginable, earth-shattering, “and then the last thing folk need is a knee jerk reaction from their employer to move to dismissal on the basis of incapability.

“Facing the indignity of dismissal whilst managing a terminal illness is quite simply cruel and wrong,” slammed Jane.

She told delegates that South Lanarkshire Council and the South Lanarkshire Trade Unions signed up to the TUCs Dying to Work Campaign last November. Not only getting them to sign up to it but also making sure that HR understands what this means and that it is applied.

“So let’s convince all our employers to sign up to the TUC Dying to Work Charter and let’s lobby our MPs for legislation that ensures that members with a terminal illness are given the same level of protection as those granted by pregnancy/maternity rights.”

John Nisbet
John Nisbet

John Nisbet of East Lothian Branch gave a moving account of his own situation when, having worked for his employer for 37 years, he was diagnosed with cancer.

“It was a shock,” said John, “But my employer was more concerned about how long I would be off work, will I be able to do my job, how much time off will I need for treatment.

“It was like bloody hounds surrounding a fox! After 37 years as an employee I felt they wanted rid of me. Terrible”

John recovered, “thanks to the wonderful NHS staff” but has not forgotten his experience.

He also spoke of a friend who had a stroke and was disgracefully sacked before her branch fought her case and she was reinstated. He added that as branch secretary he represents many members facing dismissal because of sickness absence policies that do little to support them.

“I totally support all workers being able to continue to work for as long as they are able to keep their dignity,” said John.

Susan Kennedy
Susan Kennedy

Scotland’s Susan Kennedy, speaking on behalf of the Local Government Service Group Executive told delegates that UNISON supports the TUC’s ‘Dying to work’ campaign and the call for all of us to promote and campaign to force the employers to sign up to the ‘Dying to Work Charter’.

“The choice to remain in work or not should sit with the individual…NOT with the employer,” said Susan, condemning employers who increasingly and unfairly force our members with terminal illnesses out of a job through their capability policies.

“Our members should not be faced with losing their rights to in-service benefits, ill health retirement, financial security or dignity in the workplace at the hand of despicable, un-empathetic employers.

“We would all agree that any terminal diagnosis is hard enough for anyone to bear, so please support this motion to give respect and recognition, choice and dignity back to our members and their families affected by any terminal illness.”

Maggie Cook
Maggie Cook

Scotland’s Maggie Cook, speaking for the NEC said that the very least workers who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness should be able to expect from their workplace at such a tragic moment is the reassurance that their job is safe and the financial security of their family will be protected.

“However this basic dignity is denied under current legislation,” condemned Maggie, pointing out that under the current legislation, once an employer has observed the need to make reasonable adjustments for workers who are terminally ill, they are free to pursue a capability procedure to the point of dismissal.

She spoke of Jacci Woodcock from Derbyshire, diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, who found that “the protections she had assumed were available to someone in her position were not there.” Jacci has determined to use the time she has left to her to do her utmost to get the law changed to protect terminally ill people.

“Many employers have already been won over to signing the TUC’s Dying to Work Charter. Let’s take this great campaign forward among the employers and MPs to make it a universal right,” urged Maggie.

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