‘Getting actively involved with UNISON … got me out of the abyss’

Delegates applauded Charmaine Blaze at the Black members’ conference today, when she movingly described how UNISON helped her secure a managerial role at NHS Scotland after years of being under-employed, under-valued and lacking career progression.

She observed that, for Black women in particular, the gender pay gap is “less of a gap and more of an abyss or chasm”.

Ms Blaze (pictured) said: “Many times they offer us employment and, when we come to the table, they give us crumbs while they feast on the key roles – the important roles, the leadership roles, the management roles.”

Some two years ago, it was a lifeline from UNISON that meant she was able to move out of that “abyss” by getting actively involved with the union.

“My branch helped me strategically to move out of being under-employed. And after a lot of pushing and pressing forward and not giving up, I secured – late last year – a managerial role in NHS Scotland.

So we have to keep pressing, we have to mobilise women and we have to train women to secure leadership roles.”

Almost eight out of 10 UK companies and public sector bodies pay men more than women and the figures are even more stark for Black women.

However, there is currently a lack of detailed research to identify how Black women, LGBT+ women and those with disabilities are affected disproportionately despite much anecdotal evidence.

A delegate from Newcastle described how Black women are often invisible when it comes to wages, but very visible in their absence on the career progression ladder.

“We are just too low down to be noticed. We need to increase awareness of the injustice of unequal pay.”

She said that recent research involving Manchester University had revealed that, despite high educational achievements and aspirations, Black women face disproportionately lower pay and fewer prospects for promotion.

They are also more likely to be employed on zero-hour, low-hour and insecure contracts.

Delegates approved a motion to campaign for strengthened legislation to force companies to report what work they are doing to eradicate the gender pay gap. They also approved calls for a change in the way figures are reported to include a more detailed breakdown in figures.