Universities need to ‘redouble their efforts’ to support disabled staff

UNISON higher education delegates agree to build on the ‘legacy’ of the union’s Year of Disabled Workers

Higher education delegates in Newcastle voted yesterday to build on the success of UNISON’s Year of Disabled Workers 2022, and continue to work to improve the experience of disabled members.

Sanchia Alasia of the national disabled members’ committee proposed a motion aimed at “securing the legacy” of the campaign’s achievements, “because disabled staff still face discrimination in our universities.”

The union used the Year of Disabled Workers to highlight the important contribution disabled members make to the union, to improve terms and conditions for disabled workers, including in higher education, and to campaign for improved rights for all disabled workers.

Ms Alasia told delegates: “We know that employers need to do more to address the barriers that disabled staff face, in being appointed into more senior level positions in our workplaces. They need to redouble their efforts to eliminate the different outcomes for staff by addressing these imbalances, robustly and sustainably.

“The majority of disabled staff in universities are concentrated in the lower grades in our workplaces. Even when they do progress, they reach a plateau and do not progress at the same rate as their non-disabled counterparts.

“We also need workplaces to investigate further the starting salaries of new staff who are appointed, to see whether there is a disparity between the salaries of disabled and non-disabled staff.”

The motion notes that it will take more than one year to tackle the “systemic and ingrained discrimination” against disabled people. It calls on the service group executive to work with the national disabled members’ committee to:

  • carry out an audit of HE branches that will assess:
    • where there is no agreed reasonable adjustment passport or policy
    • where there is no agreed paid disability leave policy
    • where there is no elected disabled members’ officer
  • implement a disability equality bargaining strategy, for the service group to address any such policy gaps;
  • publicise UNISON’s new online training for disabled members officers and contacts;
  • circulate the union’s new stewards guide to representing disabled members and guide to representing deaf members (British Sign language users) to activists in HE branches and workplaces.

While being urged to build on the work of one campaign, delegates were also urged to focus on a new one, UNISON’s Year of Black Workers 2023, which was launched last week.

“It’s really important that branches get engaged with this, and that you come up with your own initiatives,” assistant general secretary Jon Richards said.

“We want to improve the workplace for Black members, and we want to encourage new members to join and build a new cadre of activists – so we can better tackle workplace racism and ensure our Black members are fully supported in the workplace. So this is a really crucial year for us.”