Piling on the pressure

Conference calls for support for workers and activists facing mental health issues

Photo: Marcus Rose


The growing number of workers and union activists facing mental health issues need better support, delegates at the UNISON water, environment and transport conference in Liverpool declared today.

Paul Smith, from Yorkshire Water, said employers were ignorant about mental health.

“They pile on the pressure and there are far too many heart attacks, far too many suicides, far too many strokes,” he declared.

This is particularly true in contact centres, where employers not only expect members to deal with customer queries within specific timescales but also face restrictions on the number of comfort breaks the are allowed.

Some groups of employees are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems, delegates heard, with one speaker saying that: “Mental health issues affect women disproportionately.”

She added that “we need to change our whole attitude to mental health. We need to rally together to create safe spaces where we can talk about our issues.”

Another delegate spoke about mental health issues among LGBT workers, citing recent research that found that hate crimes had risen by 144% between 2013-14 and 2017-18, with 11,600 such crimes reported in ’17-18.

He explained that he had recently experienced homophobic abuse from a union member he was trying to help.

Delegates welcomed the work UNISON has been doing on mental health, including producing a guide on how to bargain with employers on mental health issues.

Conference agreed to continue promoting this guide, to campaign for better support for workers’ mental health and to promote the training of reps on mental health awareness.


Download the mental health guidance for branches

UNISON health and safety: mental health at work