UNISON to make 2021 year of disabled workers

Karen Strain
Karen Strain

UNISON Conference backed a South Lanarkshire motion to make 2021 the Year of Disabled Workers and ask the TUC and other unions to support the initiative.

The motion, moved by first time speaker Karen Strain, called for 2021 to be a celebration of the successes and contributions of disabled people in the workplace, and will aim to challenge societal and environmental barriers to employing disabled people.

It joined the international condemnation of how the UK Government’s policies affect disabled people and the lack of progress towards fulfilling the obligations set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 27 of the Treaty places a duty on the UK government to create the conditions that promote equal opportunity for disabled people in relation to work and employment.

”The good news is that we’re all living longer,” said Karen, “the bad news is we’ll have to work longer and longer too and sadly from middle-age we’re more likely to be affected by health problems that could lead to a disability diagnosis.”

Karen explained that 18% of those employed in the UK are disabled. She contrasted that 19% of working age adults are disabled against 45% of pension age adults.

Karen said that she was a home carer, and that she had five different conditions that impacted on her daily life but because she didn’t have a visible disability she didn’t always get the consideration she needs.

She said, “We heard some grim stuff earlier in the week about how hard life is for the disabled in Tory Britain – the pay gap for disabled workers, those deliberately denied PIP and other supports.

“It’s hard for us to get into work in the first place and many disabled people are trapped in jobs far below their aspirations, qualifications and capabilities.”

The motion pointed to the persisting disability employment gap, the persisting wages gap, and the concern that not enough is being done to ensure disabled people can gain and maintain employment.

The UK government committed to the employment of one million more disabled people by 2027 but this cannot be achieved through the current policy of penalising disabled people who are not in work

The motion also raised concern that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU could affect both the progress towards meeting the Treaty’s obligations and also the UK Government’s commitment to the employment target set.

Karen highlighted examples of disability discrimination that the National Disabled Member’s Committee had drawn attention to, such as the disabled employee who was told to use the men’s toilet because his colleagues regularly used the accessible toilet to get ready for nights out or an employee with MS harassed by Personnel to take a three hour round trip to an attendance meeting at her manager’s office because they didn’t want to waste the manager’s time travelling to her – his time was more important.

Karen told Conference that there is a higher proportion of older workers in the public sector, so many of us will be part of the ‘silver tsunami’ of disabled employees expected in the near future.

She urged, “It must matter to all of us that the disabled are treated fairly at work, and of course disabled workers can be young workers too. In 2019 UNISON’s year of young workers is already a great success so doing the same for disabled workers in 2021 is another golden opportunity for UNISON to educate, organise and change attitudes to improve the working lives of disabled workers across the UK. Let’s make “2021 the Year of Disabled Workers.”

The union will encourage branches to share experiences, both good and bad, to provide learning opportunities for our activists when supporting disabled members at work; and to press for meaningful work and progression opportunities for disabled members and progressive workplace policies, such as disability leave, to facilitate this.

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