Increasing participation by women in our union by lower paid women

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2023 National Women's Conference
11 October 2022

Women’s conference notes proudly that UNISON is a union with over a million women members and that we reach every corner of the UK and every corner of the public sector.

Conference also notes that our collective labour as women contributes billions of pounds to the economy, and our human contribution keeps our society running, exceeding even that vast sum by adding our wealth of knowledge and experience to our workplaces and communities.

Whether it be in health, education, local government or utilities it is women who hold our communities together. Despite this, years of low-pay, the experience of the pandemic and women’s substantial underpaid labour has shown us and continues to show us how we are taken for granted.

We know that much of what we do is under-regarded by our employers: the gender pay-gap ; zero-hours contracts ; misogyny ; multiple part-time jobs just to make ends meet ; discrimination and harassment are just a few of the problems we face at work. Every year at conference women share their stories of challenging their employers and we hear how our union has a long history of fighting for our hard-won rights. Yet Conference also needs to recognise that many of us in union activist roles have stable work, have access to facilities (albeit sometimes under attack from employers) and enough time to execute our roles to the best of our abilities while at the same time, many of the women we work hard to support find it difficult to undertake union activities even though their authentic voices are essential to understanding the issues they face. The barriers include lack of time, difficulty in negotiating facility time with employers, caring responsibilities and the cost of childcare. Also, some branches and some women can be unwelcoming and may fail to provide support. Black women may face prejudice and racism and there can also be an element of snobbery if the woman has a low-paid job.

Conference believes that there is a need to be honest and recognise that we need to do more as a trade union but also as women activists to support low-paid women’s involvement and reduce the barriers to participation. UNISON must do better than the employers.

Therefore, this conference calls on the National Women’s Committee to provide leadership in supporting low paid women members to become active in all areas of the union by:

1)Ensuring easily accessible explanations of the roles that are open to members are available

2)Providing information about the advantages of union participation

3)Working with regional women’s committees and regional staff to provide written assurance of support from of the branch and the region for individual women who show interest in becoming an activist

4)Explore with relevant committees and staff how to make it as easy as possible to participate by providing the information on participation in as many languages as possible and facilitating easy-to-claim expenses that are available without delay

5)Look with LAOS at the possibility of providing online training programmes and pathways to activism that can be used on a mobile phone

6)Consider with relevant staff the possibility of a conference that is focused on issues of concern to low-paid women members

7)Explore with relevant committees and staff the possibility of providing a dedicated legal help-line for low-pay issues through There for you, and specialist support for difficulties with Universal Credit (so expenses do not disrupt UA payments)

8)Discuss with National Black Members Committee ways to encourage more Black women to take an active role in their union and what support can be offered.