LGBT rights and collective agreements

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2015 National Delegate Conference
23 February 2015

Conference is concerned that collective bargaining and pay determination agreements have been under sustained Tory-led attacks. They have sought to destroy the very agreements that prevent them and their business friends from imposing poverty pay with no holiday or sick leave entitlements. Threats of regional pay bargaining are just the tip of the iceberg. Local talks, taking workplaces away from these agreements, threaten to damage the trade union movement’s historic achievements.

Conference notes that workplace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights were negotiated in collective agreements long before they were established in law. It takes negotiated agreements to bring legislative rights to life in the workplace. Legislation sets out minimum standards and collective bargaining raises standards above the minimum.

Conference notes that LGBT workers still face considerable workplace discrimination, made worse by the impact of austerity. The most large scale United Kingdom study into the ups and downs of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the workplace (Manchester Business School, 2014) found that 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. One of the most recent (Fundamental Rights Agency, 2013) found that in the UK 65% transgender people personally felt discriminated against or harassed in the past 12 months. For 78% transgender people, neither they nor anyone else reported their most recent incident of discrimination, fearing it would make no difference or make things worse.

Conference notes that many employers have generic equality policies that pay no more than lip service to LGBT issues. Bisexual workers, in particular, are often an invisible minority, their existence denied or seen as ‘fair game’ for so-called workplace banter. They are the least likely group of workers to feel able to be open about their sexual orientation at work, which is known to impact on work performance and on health.

There are still significant numbers of workplaces without transgender equality policies. Knowledge of transgender equality issues amongst managers remains very low. Transitioning at work is an unnecessarily stressful experience for far too many people and our members regularly report difficulties with time off for gender identity services. Prejudice is rife.

Conference welcomes the resources on bargaining for LGBT equality within UNISON – bargaining factsheets, guides for reps, and the members of our LGBT self-organised group.

Conference recognises that many workplaces, particularly in the community and private sectors, are not covered by national agreements, but they do gain from them. Nationally agreed pay helps push up local pay rates and nationally agreed workplace equality rights helped lay the foundations for LGBT and other equality based workplace laws and protections which all workers benefit from.

Conference notes the challenges of collective bargaining in the community sector which has numerous small employers, with members attached to local government or health branches. There are similar issues in the privatised sector, which hinders the union’s ability to negotiate robust equality policies. Many private employers mistakenly believe they do not need to deliver on the Equality Act 2010, nor put in place equality strategies. However successful examples include Barnardo’s, Action for Children and some housing association branches which negotiate nationally. The growth in regional community branches presents further opportunities to develop collective bargaining. We must continue to push our equality agenda with private sector employers.

Conference reasserts the principle that collective bargaining is the cornerstone of our political, organising and industrial strategies. Conference further believes that nationally agreed terms and conditions set a framework for us all, assist in the advancement of LGBT workplace rights and must therefore be protected and built upon. Conference notes that our negotiating strength also depends on our density and workplace organisation, across our diverse workplaces.

Conference therefore calls upon the National Executive Council to work with the National LGBT committee to:

1)Support the service groups in challenging attacks on collective bargaining processes and agreements;

2)Raise regional and branch awareness of the vital importance of including equality and LGBT workers rights in collective bargaining negotiations and the UNISON resources available to support this work;

3)Support moves to entrench collective bargaining in all sectors in which UNISON organises, including community, voluntary and private workplaces;

4)Promote the pursuit of collective agreements which incorporate LGBT and equality rights;

5)Increase efforts to build our workplace density and organisation, including self-organisation, and support our equality work.