Tackling Stress in Water, Environment and Transport Workplaces

Back to all Motions

2014 Water, Environment & Transport Service Group
24 February 2014

Conference welcomes the work done over many years by UNISON negotiators and representatives in water, environment and transport (WET) to highlight and tackle workplace stress.

Conference is concerned that the current climate, with persistent threat to jobs, is placing particular stresses on WET members. There is micro-management, ever more pressure to meet targets, with fewer staff expected to get more done. This is a particular issue in call centres, but affects WET members in many other workplaces as well. Our members face uncertainty about the future and struggle to make ends meet as wages stretch less and less far and prices continue to rise. Stressed-out supervisors take out their frustrations on staff and bullying and harassment increase.

Conference recognises that all workers can be affected by stress and anxiety, which has a direct effect on mental and physical health. It can increase periods of sickness, leading to staff being taken down the capability route as opposed to the underlying problem being tackled.

However we know from our members that some groups of workers experience particularly high levels of stress because of harassment and discrimination. This is consistently backed up by authoritative research. A recent study found that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) workers were more than twice as likely to be bullied and discriminated against than heterosexual employees. LGB people were nearly 3 times as likely to experience a range of negative acts at work – and these were highest for lesbians and bisexual people. The research also found significantly higher levels of poor physical and mental health, highest for lesbian and bisexual workers.

Every survey conducted into the experience of transgender workers shows they experience even higher levels of discrimination, prejudice, harassment, bullying and indeed hate crime at work. There are still significant numbers of workplaces without transgender equality policies and knowledge amongst managers remains very low.

Research commissioned by UNISON into the effect of austerity on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people last year found that LGBT equality is often seen as a luxury, or a ‘nice thing to do’ that can be dropped in harder times. LGBT workers report feeling increasingly marginalised and isolated, while homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are on the rise again. Mounting workplace pressures often mean equality and training are de-prioritised, at the time they are needed most.

Conference calls on the WET service group executive, working with the Business and Environment Equal Opportunities Working Party, to:

i) Urge WET branches to revisit well-being, harassment and equality policies and make sure they are inclusive and up to date.

ii) Seek to ensure that policies and practices are monitored and evaluated, including giving staff an opportunity to report in confidence their experiences of stress and harassment.

iii) Promote UNISON’s Call Centre Charter, which seeks to establish a decency agenda for staff working in call handling.

iv) Publicise the resources and support on offer from UNISON’s self-organised and young members groups amongst members.

v) Working with branches, consider the impact that austerity if having on WET members, including on their mental and physical well-being.

vi) Develop training through the national WET branch seminar to identify symptoms of stress, raise counselling skills, and to develop sickness absence policies that emphasise the need for support and welfare as opposed to the routine management of sickness absence.