Supporting lower paid women in UNISON

‘The strength and stability of our union relies on our ability to recruit, support and develop our women activists’

Low paid women debate at 2023 NDC

UNISON’s 2023 national delegate conference opened with a motion on increasing participation of lower paid women within the union.

The motion was introduced by Sharon Foster, on behalf of the national women’s committee. Ms Foster said: “Let’s face it. Sometimes women need a little bit of encouragement to step into the limelight and get more active in UNISON.”

“Most women are trapped in casualised, low paid work, and in-work poverty remains a consistent problem. It’s crucial for women everywhere, now more than ever, to make sure women’s voices are heard. To actively campaign and force change.

“The determination, anger and ability is there for sure. So why isn’t it more clearly represented among activists and officers?

“We do not need others to speak for us – we can speak for ourselves.”

Speaking in support of the motion on behalf of the union’s NEC, Lyn Marie O’Hara said:

“As a woman who came through the union of which I’ve been a member for 36 years, I’m proud to come from a branch where women’s voices aren’t just heard, but we have so many women who are so strong.”

Caroline Collinson from Newcastle city local government branch also supported the motion with a clear statement: “The strength and stability of our union relies on our ability to recruit, support and develop our women activists. It’s so important to have women lead on campaigns that affect them. The barriers to participation are clear.

“Women in UNISON are our strength”, she concluded.

Lola Oyewusi, supporting the motion on behalf of the national Black members committee, said: “It’s important we move this motion. Low-paid women are already feeling undervalued and as if they don’t belong.”

“Supporting this motion means building confidence in our low-paid women, increasing participation of our low-paid women, and having more voice among low-paid women changing and challenging our policies. Not just for women, for everybody.

“All these jobs that nobody wants to do, it’s our low paid women that pick it up, why would we not encourage them and lift it up? Why do we not want them at the forefront of our union?”

The motion calls on the union to:

  • provide information about the advantages of union participation;
  • work with the national women’s committee to provide written assurance of support from the branch and region for individual women who show interest in becoming an activist;
  • discuss with national Black members committee ways to encourage more Black women to take an active role in their union and what support can be offered.