Equality for trans workers in our higher education institutions

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2014 Higher Education Service Group Conference
8 November 2013

Conference notes with concern that transphobia and bullying and harassment of trans people is still far too commonplace in workplaces and society, including in our higher education institutions (HEIs). A recent Government Equalities Office survey found that nearly half of trans employees experienced discrimination or harassment in their workplaces and 88% said that ignorance of transgender issues was the biggest challenge they faced in employment. Trans people replying to the survey highlighted transitioning at work as one of the most significant triggers for discrimination.

Conference notes that the 2010 Equality Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against any person who is proposing to undergo, undergoing or who has undergone a process – or part of a process – of gender reassignment. It is also unlawful to treat people less favourably for being absent from work for gender reassignment than they would be treated if they were ill or injured.

Conference notes that there is increasing public awareness of trans issues. The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) has already amended the advice on trans equality it issued in 2008 which had said that it would be rare for institutions to have a trans member of staff or student. Since they published their original best practice guidance, ECU has had an increase in queries from HEIs looking for guidance on supporting staff and students who are transitioning. They now advise that HEIs are likely to have trans people among their staff and students.

Conference further notes that there may be an element of anxiety about how colleagues or students, human resources (HR) and the academic department will respond. It is good practice for an institution to ensure managers and HR staff understand the law and its implications, and are familiar with gender identity issues.

Yet despite this, many higher education employers fail to address trans workplace equality. Transgender workers experience discrimination in a wide range of ways – in seeking time off for consultations and treatment, being denied the right to use facilities, employers failing to protect workers experiencing harassment or discrimination from students or staff, and much more. Our transgender members have reported how isolated they feel and that they can be unsure that their union representative or branch will be equipped to deal with the issues they face.

HEIs also need to be aware that the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has implemented a process specifically for trans people who do not wish to disclose their trans status. HR departments should let all applicants know that they are not required to put their former names or gender on their DBS application form, and they can contact the DBS’s sensitive applications team.

Conference therefore calls on the Higher Education Service Group Executive to:

1)Draw the attention of HE branch negotiators and equality reps to the transgender equality factsheet “Transgender workers rights” and UNISON’s Introductory guide for trade union reps supporting trans members;

2. Urge HE branches to actively encourage trans members to participate in branch and regional LGBT self organised groups;

3. Encourage HE employers and branches to include trans issues in their equality training;

4. Highlight good practice and policies within HE and encourage the negotiation of specific policies on transitioning at work.

5. Seek to encourage the inclusion of trans perspectives equality objectives and equality impact assessment processes within our HEIs.