Women, wellness and work

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2019 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2019
Carried as Amended

Conference notes with concern that despite previous motions and campaigns highlighting gender specific health issues faced by women in the workplace there is still very little recognition nor help and advice in the workplace for employees or employers.

Whilst these health issues may not in themselves impact on productivity, lack of support and unsympathetic workplace cultures can exacerbate symptoms and this can influence women’s engagement with and enjoyment of work.

Menstrual cycle related problems, pregnancy, miscarriage, termination, hysterectomy, and menopausal transition to name but a few gender specific health issues are all important aspects in considering women’s occupational health. Whilst there are some safeguards for women experiencing pregnancy related illnesses, other gender specific health issues are dealt with through draconian sickness absence procedures.

Women make up approximately 50% of the UK workforce. Female workers are to be valued and women are a growing labour pool. Supporting women in the workplace means they stay longer, and are happier, in work. And yet, women’s unemployment is currently at a 24 year high.

There are approximately 36 million people of working age with official workforce figures of 33 million with 3 million unable to work or claiming long term benefits. That is more than sixteen million women of different ethnic, faith, and socio-economic backgrounds, different family and marital status, disabled and non-disabled women, and lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, plus and heterosexual women, spread across all industries in every corner of the country of which a significant proportion will experience one or more gender specific health related issues while still holding down a job.

Despite this fact, there is scant guidance for employers and employees to specifically support women through gender specific health issues.

Many employers have ‘tightened up’ existing procedures in an attempt to reduce rates of sickness absence. Other employers have no flexible working or are cutting down on the flexibilities allowed. Such measures discriminate against women as they do not take account or recognise the gender-specific health issues many women face and are often forced to take time off sick for.

Employers need to ensure that their workplace environment is inclusive of female workers and that there is an investment in the specific health-related needs of working women to include making allowances either in sickness absence procedures and/or flexible working to include menstrual cycle related problems, pregnancy, miscarriage, termination, hysterectomy and menopausal transition.

Absences as a result of issues relating to menstrual cycle related problems, miscarriage, termination, hysterectomy, and menopausal transition are recorded in the same way as any other sickness absence. Most employer procedures do not even mention that there are specific difficulties that may be experienced by women. Absences are often not treated in a sensitive manner and many members face the prospect of sickness absence interviews where absence statistics are being used as the primary motivator and no consideration taken of the actual illness. Effectively, many female UNISON members are being subject to capability or competency hearings just for being a woman.

Conference calls upon the local government service group executive to:

1)Produce national guidance and training that enables reps to challenge attitudes and raise awareness of gender specific health conditions suffered by women in the workplace.

2)Develop negotiating guidance on policies to support women with gender specific health conditions including mandatory training for all employers and employees in the workplace .

3)Include gender specific policy, for example on menopausal transition, as part of pay claims.

4)Influence policy makers for women with gender specific health conditions to have legal protection including more flexible working against punitive sickness absence policies.