Recession and the Rise of Intolerance and Discrimination

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2009 National Delegate Conference
29 May 2009

In times of economic recession the most vulnerable in society are at greatest risk. As the economic crisis deepens and its long term nature becomes evident there is the very real threat that inequality widens, the equalities agenda is sidelined and that women, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME), young workers, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) and workers with disabilities suffer disproportionately. From our history we have learnt that discrimination, intolerance and the denial of fundamental human rights increases as economic prosperity decreases. It manifests itself in the form of increased racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sex discrimination, domestic abuse and hate crimes. The single largest group, both at work and in society likely to face discrimination on all counts is women.

Conference notes:

1)Women will be hit harder than in any previous economic downturn;

2)Poverty and child poverty will increase as many households depend solely or primarily on a women’s wage;

3)One million migrant workers have returned to their home country, many as a result of unemployment and not through choice;

4)Attacks and abuse of migrant workers and BME workers continue to increase;

5)16% of young people aged 16-24 years are not in work or undergoing training and graduate unemployment is set to rise;

6)Opportunities for volunteering and employment for people with disabilities are decreasing;

7)Charities report major increases in requests for assistance from disabled people and their families;

8)LGBT people’s security of employment is still affected by their confidence at being out and issues of health and wellbeing.

Protection of the most vulnerable and tackling inequality and promoting policies which recognise the particular concerns and needs of women, BME workers, LGBT, young people and people with disabilities must be at the heart of UNISON’s response to the economic crisis.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to ensure that UNISON is at the forefront of championing the rights of those in our society most at risk. In particular, we need to produce appropriate research, case studies, pamphlets, newsletters and campaign action sheets as campaign tools to support UNISON branches in identifying, confronting and tackling discrimination and the denial of human rights in work and in our communities.

Much good work has already been done by self organised groups, regions and branches but there is a clear gap in both the analysis and campaign tools with regard with women members.

Conference agrees:

a)Equalities legislation should be strengthened;

b)Public services have a key role to play supporting the vulnerable;

c)UNISON should be at the forefront of campaigning for greater representation of women, BME and young people and those with disabilities in policy making and boardrooms and public sector bodies;

d)Regions and branches should develop campaigning strategies which are inclusive and participatory, working with community, voluntary and other civic society organisations, building broad based coalitions and promoting equalities and social justice;

e)The role of shop stewards is crucial in identifying and challenging inequality in the workplace and the wider community and support and training should be developed to give them the confidence to do this;

f)The developing role of Equality Representatives in the workplace, in branches will be ever more important.