Protecting women’s mental health

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2013 National Women's Conference
15 October 2012

Conference notes that the issue of work-related stress has been of major concern to our union for many years. UNISON branches have been successful in negotiating workplace policies on stress and mental wellbeing and supporting members to remain in work, and UNISON has won compensation for members forced out of the workplace by unsympathetic employers.

However, conference notes that we are now in a position where, due to the government’s budget cuts and austerity measures, the pressure on employees is ever increasing, and as always it is women who are bearing the brunt of the additional workload, and paying the price in terms of mental health problems.

UNISON’s research has shown that some of the major causes of work-related stress are being set unrealistic deadlines; lack of control and conflicting demands; repetitive work, boredom and lack of job satisfaction; job insecurity; low pay; working alone, bullying and harassment.

All of these factors are particularly predominant in the female workforce, with low paid, Black, disabled and LGBT women more vulnerable to many of these situations. Women may additionally be juggling caring commitments for children and older relatives with their work; facing physical health problems and potentially be in financial difficulty as a result of lifelong low pay, loss of a partner or relationship breakdown.

UNISON reps report that they are seeing increasing numbers of women seeking advice and support for stress-related issues, often presenting as increased sickness absence, poor timekeeping or poor performance, but frequently and worryingly also reporting depression and suicidal thoughts.

Other mental health problems are also more prevalent in women, with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders twice as common and eating disorders as high as ten times more common.

Conference believes that it is essential that women are provided with the proper support to enable them to remain in the workforce in a secure and supportive environment.

It therefore calls upon the national women’s committee to:

1) liaise with UNISON’s health and safety unit to ensure that the current guidance is comprehensive and reflects the current workplace culture;

2) work with the health and safety unit, service groups, the NEC and partner organisations to raise awareness of the rising rate of stress-related mental health problems and how they can best be reduced, managed and controlled, in accordance with the guidance;

3) promote the UNISON guidance on work-related stress and mental wellbeing through branches, regions and women’s networks.