Legal equality facility time for women

Back to all Motions

2015 National Women's Conference
4 September 2014

At the Discrimination Law Conference in January 2014 Professor Sir Bob Hepple QC said that “if a new government enacts only one new piece of equality legislation it should be to require equality representatives at workplaces” – such reps would require a legal right to time off to “be involved in drawing up and enforcing employment and pay equity plans”.

Currently equality reps have no legal right to time off to undertake their trade union equality duties. The TUC argued in a 2005 submission to the former Women and Work Commission that trade union equality reps should be given the same statutory rights as learning reps – paid time off for training and for undertaking their role. Training included developing the necessary knowledge, skills and confidence to undertake the role effectively and capacity building for effective engagement with employers.

TUC research published in 2010 concluded that a key factor in equality reps effectiveness was the amount of time they were able to spend on their duties and without a statutory right that time was limited. The research reported that equality reps greatly enhance employers’ quality work and have a positive impact in the workplace. There was evidence of employers support with one saying “It is in our interests to develop competent equality reps.”

The TUC research also found that though less than half of equality reps surveyed were women (46%) that this was unsurprising given that the role is largely undertaken by reps with other established roles due to the lack of specific time off. However it was also noted that 63% of those who had not had previous rep experience were women which indicated that the role was playing a part in attracting more women members into union activity.

The activities that equality reps undertook included –

Providing advice and information on equality matters;

Encouraging and supporting workplace diversity and fairness; Workplace mapping and tackling discriminatory patterns;

Assisting with flexible working;

Supporting and advising members on sexual harassment issues;

Encouraging discussion of sex equality issues on the collective bargaining agenda.

This matter is especially important for UNISON given that nearly three quarters of our members are women a majority of whom are low paid. The lack of equality facility time is therefore directly discriminatory and is also indirectly discriminatory in that women’s time is heavily pressurised due to caring responsibilities.

Four years of the coalition government and its austerity policies have rolled back equality successes for women and significantly increased workplace inequality. The lack of equalities facility time seriously impairs women activist’s abilities to challenge discrimination against women in the workplace – it is becoming a 2nd class matter for better days. The implicit – if not explicit – perception is that women’s equality is not as important as other TU issues.

Now more than ever women’s equality should be centre stage. The inequitable effects of the austerity policies need tackling:

How zero hour contracts affect women;

Segregation of ‘women’s’ work into low pay jobs and the need for a living wage and pay equity plans;

Employer sickness absence monitoring resulting in ‘survival of the fittest’ and the particular impact on older women;

Lack of affordable and accessible child care;

Effect of increase in stress and mental ill health on women.

Conference requests the National Women’s Committee to –

1)Discuss facility time for equality reps with the TUC with a view to raising it with the next government;

2)Work with Labour Link to influence the next labour Government to extend facility time to equality reps.