Women in UNISON are our strength!

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2023 National Women's Conference
12 October 2022

Conference notes that UNISON is the UK’s largest union representing 1.3 million members who provide public services. Currently 78% of the membership identify as women, a total of over 1 million women members.

There is no doubt that the strength and stability of our union UNISON lies with our ability to recruit, support, and develop our women activists. UNISON Women members are at the forefront of many of our most important campaigns. UNISON’s women members have successfully negotiated on issues such as domestic abuse, equal pay, and maternity rights. But we can do much more.

TUC research in 2014 revealed that women were under-represented relative to the proportion in membership among shop stewards, health and safety reps, branch officers, union conference delegates and union executives. Part time workers are also under-represented in Trade Unions, the majority of whom are women.

It is recognised that Women face unprecedented challenges and still face inequality in the current climate and erosion of hard fought for rights. Gender pay gap, sexual harassment, flexible working, access to maternity rights and progression are just a few workplace issues affecting our women members.

The introduction of women’s officer as a formal role within the UNISON’s branch rules was made in 2016. However, discussion at Women’s Conference in 2020 described the difficulties created due to the removal of Regional Women’s Officer posts.

Despite this our Union continues to provide additional support to our women members via our self- organised groups led by members or Women officers in a voluntary capacity. These groups are doing amazing work to continue to engage with our women members, representing them and supporting their development to be active voices in our union. However, understandably capacity and facility time issues can make this demanding and conflicting.

To meet our aims to continue growth and remain the largest union we need to maintain and improve our recruitment levels but also to target our ‘hard to reach’ and lower paid women members. Only by a targeted approach can we ensure that we offer the protection and opportunities of UNISON and encourage more women to join us and take on active roles within our union.

Newcastle City Branch SOG group discussed these challenges and developed a stand-alone proposal for a dedicated part time Women’s Officer role for a year as a pilot in September 2021. Women members in the branch were consulted and asked their views. The pilot project is designed, shaped, and delivered based on grass root priorities of women members. This was discussed and agreed at Branch Committee with full support. The voices of women members in our branch were heard loud and clear. The evidence-based project aims to ensure women members reach their potential to lead change in the workplace.

The project has been successful in achieving its target outcomes, increasing the number of women recruited to UNISON in target areas, recruiting new activists and increasing overall engagement with women members to encourage personal development via UNISON Training and Education and our regional mentoring programme.

The project has also supported the further development of the branch women’s self-organised group by feeding in women’s priorities and issues and as a result increased member led activity and involvement.

Evidence of the success of the first year of the project has resulted in a branch decision to increase release time by 100% which will continue the project work for a further year and also will extend the reach and support provided.

Quote: Each time a woman stands up for herself she stands up for all women!

We ask National Women’s Committee to:

1)Work with regional women’s networks to encourage and support branches to:

i)develop a focused and structured approach to encourage recruitment of women members, particularly lower paid women workers

ii) develop structured support to women members to enable their personal development and progression to become active and take up leadership roles within UNISON