Women’s Employment and Learning in the workplace

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2019 National Women's Conference
25 October 2018

Conference notes the strong evidence that cuts to the public sector affect women more than men. 65% of public service workers are women and almost a quarter of working women are in public sector jobs.

Job cuts, pay freezes and changes to terms and conditions in the public sector are impacting more on women than men and more jobs will be in jeopardy as a result of cuts in the next few years; austerity in the public sector has not ended, and there are already 1.1 million women out of work.

Women’s roles have changed dramatically over recent years and they are juggling a disproportionate amount of challenges, this is especially true of lower paid workers. For example being the primary earner in the family, being expected to work longer due to pension inequality or having the majority of carer responsibilities.

Another major factor is the Digitalisation agenda and the fact that a significant proportion of our members have previously been excluded. Due to job cuts and restructures this lack of knowledge and digital skills seriously disadvantages Women members in the current competitive employment market. As primary carers for children this may also have an effect on being able to monitor and promote safety online within the home.

Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society has said “Women have not faced a greater threat to their financial security and rights in living memory. Decades of steady, albeit slow, progress on equality for women is being dismantled, as cuts to women’s jobs and the benefits and services they rely on turn back time on women’s equality”

UNISON are best placed to support workplace learning with Shop Stewards and ULRs present in many workplaces, they have the opportunity to meet with members and understand what training is required. If there is greater access to learning and development this would enable Women members to gain more confidence and skills, and therefore increase opportunities. It is vital that UNISON grasp these opportunities and lead the way on this with employers.

Within UNISON there are excellent learning programmes and there are many learning agreements in place with Employers. However, continued pressure on Employers is required to be able to negotiate the time off that is vital to be able to access learning in the workplace.

Women’s commitments and responsibilities do not finish at the end of the working day as they may still be primary carers for children or relatives or may have other jobs. Therefore it is very important to reach out to women, especially lower paid women, and offer appropriate support within the workplace to participate in a range of learning opportunities.

Conference calls on the Women’s Committee to:

• Encourage branches to negotiate with employers to provide learning agreements that actively support women, particularly lower paid women, to take up these opportunities,

• Support branches to ensure that learning agreements include specific items that take account of low paid women and women carers’ needs, e.g. release within the working day,

• Work with UNISON’S Learning and Organising Services Team to provide materials to promote online safety for women members.