International Women’s Day, held annually on 8 March, is historically rooted in the trade union movement. Originally named ‘International Working Women’s Day’ in 1911, the day was born from women sweatshop workers’ collective struggle to have fair, safe and decent working conditions.
For UNISON, every day is an opportunity to advance the rights of working women. As the UK’s biggest union for women, UNISON is always advocating loudly and proudly for women’s rights at work. And that has not stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past year, UNISON has advocated for a number of women’s rights issues. Most recently, UNISON won an amendment in the Domestic Abuse Bill to extend Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOS) into the workplace.
This means that survivors of domestic abuse will be able to go to work protected from harassment or unwanted contact with their abusive partners or exes.
As MP Jess Phillips, who partnered with UNISON on the amendment, said: “Violence against women protections aren’t a special add-on. They’re fundamental to worker’s rights. If you work with people, then you work with victims of domestic abuse.”
UNISON national officer Josie Irwin said: “It means more victims can be protected from harassment and threats at work. It’s an important recognition that home and work cannot always be neatly separated.”
As well as being vocal about women’s experiences and rights, UNISON is always listening. 47,000 women recently responded to UNISON’s survey on women’s experiences throughout the pandemic.
UNISON has also given advice to the Women and Equalities Select Committee on the gendered impact of COVID-19, which resulted in a report published on 9 February 2021. The report includes several UNISON recommendations, including:
- Maintaining increases in support, including the £20 increase to the Universal Credit allowance.
- Reviewing the adequacy of and eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay, as women are over-represented among those who are not eligible.
- Extending redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers.
- Reviewing childcare provision to provide support not only for working parents but those who are job seeking or retraining.
- Reinstating gender pay gap reporting, which the government has delayed for a second year.
UNISON national officer Josie Irwin said: “Women who work are exhausted from balancing their vital jobs in public services with caring responsibilities at home.
“Throughout the pandemic UNISON has challenged the government on the unequal impact of COVID-19 on women, including the ticking time-bomb of domestic abuse.
“It’s great that we’ve won a change in the law to protect domestic abuse victims at work. The government needs to step up by providing the funding and support to make women’s working lives easier.”