Work-life balance, mental health and the Right to Disconnect

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2023 National Water, Environment & Transport Conference
21 February 2023

Conference notes the significant changes to working patterns and practices that have happened since the pandemic, including a large rise in remote and hybrid working, including in the Water, Environment and Transport (WET) sector employers.

Conference believes greater flexibility should be welcomed where this works for staff – for example, some disabled workers may find more home working is a useful adjustment, and workers with children or other caring responsibilities, often women, may find that greater flexibility may help them balance caring with their working lives.

However, working from home and flexibility can also present problems for WET staff, by blurring the line between work time and personal time. Being expected to be permanently available can have a particular impact on younger WET workers, and workers with caring responsibilities, who are more likely to be women; it can negatively impact mental health and stress levels; and it can mean that WET staff are not being paid for all the hours they are actually working. Badly considered and implemented moves to home working can also put victims of domestic violence at greater risk, if they are moved without their consent to working arrangements which force them to spend more time within an unsafe home environment.

Conference believes that flexible, hybrid and remote working policies for WET staff need to be actively negotiated and agreed by trade unions, who can meaningfully consult WET staff, and can negotiate fair and positive arrangements that work best for the WET workforce as a whole.

Conference notes the 2017 research produced by the TUC which found that unionised workplaces have stronger policies around work/life balance, and that trade unions have expertise in negotiating such policies. Conference believes that the voices of women must be heard when trade unions talk about work/life balance, as they are more likely to have caring responsibilities which can be affected both negatively and positively by new working arrangements.

Conference notes that the Right to Disconnect is the right not to engage in email, telephone and other work-related contact outside of paid working hours. The Right to Disconnect has been established through legislation in some countries, e.g. France, but can also be negotiated with individual WET employers through bargaining for robust WET workplace policies. Right to Disconnect policies can have a specifically positive impact on women workers in the WET sector and those with caring responsibilities, who benefit from a clearly defined separation between working and personal time.

Conference believes all workers in the WET service group should have the Right to Disconnect and that UNISON has a key role to play in improving work/life balance for workers in the WET service group.

Conference therefore calls upon the Water, Environment and Transport (WET) Service Group Executive to:

1) Highlight the gendered impact of flexible, hybrid and remote working policies for workers in the WET service group;

2) Promote UNISON’s bargaining guidance on work/life balance and hybrid, remote and flexible working to women members in the WET service group and branch and regional women’s groups;

3) Work with the National Women’s Committee (NWC) and the National Executive Council (NEC) to support a campaign for legislation on the Right to Disconnect;

4) Seek to promote the voices of women members in UNISON campaigning and bargaining on work/life balance.