Higher education delegates tackle equality and discrimination

The higher education national virtual conference addressed the issues faced by its Black and trans members

A number of motions in this week’s higher education (HE) national conference addressed discrimination in the sector, against both Black and trans individuals.

Among them, Black Lives Matter – a higher education trade union programme of action, noted how the movement that grew out of international outrage following the murder of George Floyd in the US was continuing to challenge racism within modern society, in all its forms.

Introducing the motion, Nicole Garnier of the HE service group executive, told delegates: “In many universities there is a disturbing but depressingly familiar pattern of disproportionate numbers of Black staff who are significantly over-represented in lower grade jobs and under-represented in higher grade roles.

“The ethnic pay gap in higher education has for decades also highlighted that Black staff earn significantly less than their white counterparts.”

She said that the sector needed to ensure that staff data was as accurate as possible, so that this problem could be addressed with “real, measurable actions.”

Ms Garnier also noted the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into racial harassment in higher education, published in October 2019.

“The report highlighted the extent of racial discrimination experienced by staff and students on campuses across the UK,” she said. “Trade unionists should demand an end to all types of discrimination, because it is so often used to create false divisions, when the interests of all working people should be the same.

“The Black Lives Matter movement deserves the support of UNISON and all higher education trade unions, to formulate demands on employers and campaign to achieve genuine racial justice within higher education.”

Delegates called on the SGE to:

  • continue to engage in discussions with vice-chancellors to implement practical measures to create genuine equality of opportunity at universities, specifically in relation to new appointments;
  • explore how UNISON can work with vice-chancellors to improve the quality of staff data, in order to calculate and publish their ethnic pay gaps and agree action plans to address and reduce pay disparity;
  • circulate the new UK guidance on tackling racial harassment to all branches and support them in working with universities to address the issue of racial harassment and discrimination;
  • work with sister unions to promote the inclusion of Black working class history in the higher education curriculum;
  • maintain total opposition to organisations that incite racism and racial harassment from speaking on higher education campuses;
  • encourage branches to support Stand Up to Racism, Show Racism the Red Card and Black Lives Matter events across our branches and regions;
  • provide support for, and empower Black university workers to organise within UNISON and its self-organised group structures;
  • signpost branches and regions to resources, enabling them to equip branch officers and reps with the skills and knowledge necessary to identify and tackle racism effectively.

Trans equality in higher education – louder and prouder, proposed by the national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender plus committee, noted that attacks on trans people had escalated in 2021, with certain groups “trying to roll back the rights of trans people”.

The motion identified a “sustained attack” on Stonewall’s trans-inclusive Diversity Champions programme, of which many universities are members. The programme gives advice, support and resources to employers on meeting their statutory requirements under the Equality Act 2010 and provides support and tools for organisations to improve their practice beyond the legal minimum.

The conference called on the SGE to work with the national LGBT+ committee and other parts of the union to:

  • explore ways to increase the strength and visibility of UNISON’s work to promote trans equality in universities;
  • encourage higher education branches, working with student unions where possible, to urge employers to join the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, if they are not already members;
  • promote UNISON trans ally training widely within the service group;
  • -roduce and promote materials to help members in higher education to counter the gender critical narrative and provide information on the links between the gender critical movement in the UK and the far right.