Work-Life Balance

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2002 National Delegate Conference
9 May 2002

Conference acknowledges the role played by work-life balance policies in ensuring that public services are exemplars of best practice and employers of choice, meeting the needs of workers whilst also responding to the needs of users and customers.

UNISON can use the Government’s focus on work-life balance, and its advocacy to employers of a partnership approach to press for flexible and employee friendly working practices in the best interests of our members.

Consequently, Conference welcomes the part played by this Union in securing improved pay and leave provision for parents during the past year through the Work and Parents Review of maternity and parental leave. However, we still need to lobby and campaign to achieve our objectives in this area. Conference also welcomes the branch guidance on negotiating an end to disability discrimination, this should help to eradicate discrimination in sickness absence, redundancy and recruitment policies as well as provide support to disabled members when they require leave in relation to impairment.

Recognition is also made of the fact that millions of pounds of Challenge and Partnership Funding has been allocated by the DTI to public sector and service providers in order to develop and enhance their work-life balance policies. Indeed over half of all the bodies to which Challenge Funding has been awarded have UNISON representation.

Conference welcomes the National Childcare Strategy as an essential ingredient in policies to achieve work-life balance. Nevertheless, more needs to be done to ensure that all parents have access to high quality affordable childcare, provided by properly trained and fairly paid staff.

Conference notes that, despite these Government initiatives, there is still much to be done. Public sector bodies still face severe recruitment and retention problems. For example, the Employers Organisation has reported that more than four-fifths, 84 per cent, of local authorities had recruitment and retention difficulties, with at least one occupation, in the year to January 2001, compared with 39 per cent in the year to January 1997. Similar trends are apparent in the health, education and other key public services.

Public service workers are amongst those most at risk of suffering job related health problems such as stress and as such have the potential to escalate the number of disabled people who may require protection under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Work-life balance policies are proved to tackle these problems. At the London Borough of Merton, for example, UNISON negotiated alterations in working patterns led to significant reductions in absenteeism, and 30 per cent less turnover of staff during the first year of their pilot projects. Therefore, Conference believes that work-life balance polices can not only benefit its workers, but the wider public through better run more responsive service.

Therefore, Conference seeks to ensure that work-life balance policies are more than pious words and are implemented in the workplace according to principles of fairness, need, equality, and transparency for the aim of benefiting the worker, rather than the employer. Work-life balance should not under any circumstance be used by the employer as a screen to erode the terms and conditions of workers.

In order to achieve this aim, and assist branches to negotiate improved working arrangements for workers, Conference calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1)Promote the concept of work-life balance across all service groups in the Union;

2)Continue to campaign for effective statutory rights for working parents. In particular for:

a)The right to work flexible hours, including reduced hours, unless refusal can be objectively justified;

b)Paid parental, adoption and paternity leave to be earnings related in the same way as for maternity leave and pay;

c)Increased public funding and provision of childcare.

3)Pursue policies that will place responsibility upon employers to consult and work with union representatives and that legislation protects all workers;

4)Lobby the Government to ensure that every effort is made to promote work-life balance policies with employers so that they respond to the needs of the workforce.

5)Ensure suitable material is provided to assist branches and regions in raising the profile and explaining the importance of this issue to all our members;

6)Provide appropriate guidance and advice that will enable branches to enter into partnership with employers that builds upon current legislation, as well as securing work-life benefits for all workers, yet does not sacrifice the independence of the trade union or permit the employers to dictate our agenda;

6)Encourage the widest possible distribution of examples of good practice to all regions;

7)Produces, and regularly updates, a tool kit for branch use so that at the local level branch officers have a framework for negotiating new approaches to working time, working place and other service conditions issues which impact on the delivery of a genuine work-life balanced environment;

8)Make the appropriate links with other union campaigns and priorities so that each campaign reinforces work-life balance objectives.