Fair representation for Disabled Members

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2024 National Women's Conference
13 October 2023

UNISON is a union that strongly believes in equality, diversity and inclusion. We recruit and encourage activism from members of all backgrounds and our self-organisation structure is recognised as an example of good practice. We work hard to promote the rights of disabled people and are proud of everything we have achieved.

We estimate that between 350,000 and 400,000 (between 27% and 30%) of UNISON Members are disabled with around 80% of those being disabled women. This is based on the percentage of working age people who are disabled combined with evidence that more disabled people work in the sectors where UNISON represents and the ageing workforce in these sectors.

Despite this our Disabled Members, and disabled women in particular, are under represented on many of our national committees with few openly Disabled Members holding chairing positions. This includes self organised group (SOG) committees, service group executive (SGE) committees and NEC sub-committees which do not always reflect the diversity of our union.

Disabled Members have to overcome many barriers to be elected into positions of responsibility, including as chairs of national committees. As in any organisation, there can be ‘gate keepers’ who want to retain positions of power.

Some of the other barriers Disabled Members face include:

• Not enough understanding of reasonable adjustments and how they work in practice.

• Not enough Disabled Members on national committees to allow a strong enough voice for Disabled Members to get elected into leadership positions.

• Not enough flexibility in elected positions. For example, if chair and vice-chair positions could be job-share roles in the way they are on National Disabled Members Committee (NDMC) this could be a reasonable adjustment for some Disabled Members.

• No consistency in reserved seats on SOG committees. For example, NDMC has two reserved seats for representatives from LGBT+ Committee and two from Disabled LGBT+ caucus but National LGBT+ Committee don’t have reserved seats for NDMC.

• Some branches and regions not encouraging Disabled Members to stand for roles that aren’t specifically roles for Disabled Members.

• Some branches, regions and committees consistently sending non-disabled representatives and delegations to national committees and conferences.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is a core principle in UNISON and Disabled Members must be at the heart of this. It is time to break down the barriers that prevent Disabled Members, and disabled women in particular, from fully participating in all our union’s structures.

We have fair representation rules for Disabled Members and other diverse groups but they are not as strong as the proportionality rules for women and men.

Conference believes it is important that SOGs, SGE’s and the NEC take a proactive approach and seek to ensure that all national committees and their chairs reflect the diversity of our union including Disabled Members.

As the largest self-organised group in UNISON, women can take a leading role in helping Disabled Members, and disabled women in particular, to overcome the barriers they face. Where National Women’s Committee (NWC) lead the rest of our union will follow.

Conference instructs the National Women’s Committee to work with NDMC to:

1)Promote opportunities for disabled women members to advance in all our democratic structures.

2)Create guidance for NWC to create a level playing field for disabled women members who wish to stand for election to positions of responsibility including chairing roles.

3)Identify and seek to eliminate barriers that may prevent disabled women from standing for positions of responsibility, including chairing roles, on NWC. This should include considering more flexibility when filling positions to remove or reduce the barriers that stop disabled women from standing.

4)Develop and deliver training, with support from the UNISON College, for NWC to pilot to increase understanding of reasonable adjustments, raise awareness of the unconscious bias and micro-aggressions disabled people face and the importance of making our union more inclusive for Disabled Members.

5)Consider ways to support disabled women, including mentoring and peer support, to gain the confidence to become more active on NWC including in roles of responsibility such as chairing positions.

6)Identify best practice and share the lessons learned with other SOGs, SGEs and the NEC.