Creating an Agenda on Equality and Human Rights

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2015 National Delegate Conference
24 February 2015

There has been a roll-back on equality and human rights throughout the UK despite decades of anti-discrimination legislation, statutory duties to promote equality of opportunity, domestic legislation on human rights and the UK’s obligations under a wide range of EU and UN equality and human rights instruments.

The persistent attack on public services has further eroded equality and human rights for many across society including women; children and young people; black people and ethnic minority groups, including migrant workers; people with disabilities; workers and trade unions.

Governments’ failures on implementation of their equality and human rights obligations and the persistent attack on equality and human rights needs to be addressed on multiple levels including pressure on Governments and public bodies, a new set of demands at the bargaining table, and a raised awareness amongst UNISON members of the rights that are denied or frustrated.

In this motion we set out, in summary form, the areas of public policy and legislation which a range of UN Committees have identified as requiring action by the UK if widening discrimination, inequality, erosion of human rights and the persistent attack on social and economic rights is to be addressed.

In 2009 the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) recommended action that included the UK’s obligation to:

1)Reduce unemployment, particularly for vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities and ethnic minorities;

2)Overcome gender inequalities at work, including the gender pay gap;

3)Combat poverty, fuel poverty and children’s poverty;

4)Address the impact of welfare reforms on vulnerable groups;

5)Guarantee access to adequate housing for all, including the provision of sites for Roma, Gypsies and Travellers;

6)Overcome health inequalities;

7)Reduce discrimination in education;

8)Combat violence against women;

The unfettered right to strike, identified in previous reports, has never been implemented.

One important overall observation was the fact that failing to produce an action plan which recognised political devolution and responsibilities for overseas territories led to uneven development on equality and human rights.

In 2013 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) recommended action that included the UK’s obligation to:

a)Ensure that women can access courts effectively;

b)Ratify the Istanbul Convention;

c)Make forced marriage a criminal offence;

d)Adopt a comprehensive national action plan to tackle trafficking in women and girls;

e)Improve mental health care in all prisons;

f)Take steps to end occupational segregation and reducing the gender pay gap.

The Committee also made a number of specific observations on actions to eliminate discrimination against women in Northern Ireland.

In 2008 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recommended action that included the UK’s obligation to:

i)Allocate the maximum available resources to implement children’s rights and eradicate child poverty;

ii)End the use of physical restraint and solitary confinement on children in detention;

iii)Establish mechanisms for monitoring and collecting data on cases of violence, sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation;

iv)Tackle inequalities in access to health service;

v)Reduce the achievement gap in education for children with disabilities, Roma and Traveller children and asylum-seeking children;

vi)Raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility and develop alternative measures to detention of children.

In 2011, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recommended action that included the UK’s obligation to:

A)Produce a detailed action plan or strategy to tackle race inequality;

B)Review the impact of ‘stop and search’ powers on ethnic minority groups under various pieces of legislation in the UK;

C)Take all necessary steps to eliminate all racist bullying in schools.

In 2008 the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR), that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, recommended action that included the UK’s obligation to:

I)Investigate alleged acts of torture, ill-treatment and suspicious deaths inflicted by UK personnel in detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq;

II)Ensure that no one is returned to another country if there are substantial reasons for fearing that they may be subjected to torture;

III)Ensure stop and search powers are used in a non-discriminatory manner;

IV)End the detention of asylum seekers in prison;

V)Combat negative attitudes towards Muslims;

VI)Encourage increased representation of women and ethnic minorities in the judiciary; and

VII)Review legislation which denies all convicted prisoners the right to vote.

In 2013, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) recommended action that included the UK’s obligation to:

aa) Improve efforts to prevent violence and self-harm in places of detention;

ab) Establish standards and measures of compliance to prevent ill-treatment of patients receiving health care services;

ac) Investigate alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held overseas under the State’s control or jurisdiction;

ad) Take steps to prevent vulnerable asylum seekers and torture survivors from being entered into administrative detention;

ae) Ensure that electrical discharge weapons (tasers) are used only in extreme and limited situations where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury;

af) Use restraint against children only as a last resort and to prevent harm rather than for disciplinary purposes; and

ag) Direct children with mental disabilities to appropriate health institutions rather than police custody.

Conference notes that between 2015 and 2017 the UK Government will be re-examined by the relevant UN Committee on its compliance with all these Treaties and the actions it has taken to implement the above recommendations. For the first time the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will also examine the UK Government’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities following its ratification in 2009.

Conference is concerned that in addition to its failure to implement its Treaty obligations the UK Government has also so far failed to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW) as well as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED).

Conference is further concerned at the failure of the UK Government to incorporate each Treaty into domestic law despite this being a key recommendation in the concluding observations from various Treaty bodies over many years.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to work with relevant UNISON structures to press the UK Government for implementation of the above recommendations and its obligations and duties under international human rights law. In particular:

AA) To ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED);

AB) To lift all reservations to the seven Treaties it has ratified;

AC) To incorporate each Treaty into domestic law;

AD) To ensure that the lead Government Department fulfills its obligation to ensure that each Treaty is mainstreamed across government;

AE) To consult with trade unions, human rights groups, and civil society to gain widespread input into the state report and to share a draft of the state report prior to submission to the UN;

AF) To ensure the input from the devolved administrations where Treaties refer to areas of devolved responsibility;

AG) To respond seriously to concluding observations of the Treaty bodies through the development of action plans outlining how they will be met, where responsibility lies in government and when action should be delivered by.

Conference also calls on the National Executive Council:

1a) To work with all relevant structures to develop claims for the bargaining agenda in pursuance of those recommendations, which are capable of being implemented by bargaining, for example on terms and conditions and staffing levels, and those which can be implemented through policy adjustments by public bodies and public employers;

1b) To develop education and organising programmes to raise awareness among the members of how to use the existing equality and human rights tools to secure their rights.

In developing these strategies UNISON notes the UNCESCR recommendation on the responsibilities of devolved administrations as well as the UK Government.