Women’s work is “undervalued, invisible and ignored”, says UNISON    

Christina McAnea says in speech to national women’s conference that battle continues for fair and equal pay

In a speech to the union’s national women’s conference today (Friday), UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said:

“Every day, women are responsible for change across the whole of society. When I became general secretary last year, I promised to lead our collective strength of one million women to be a voice for all women in the workplace.

“The challenges in the workplace and at home have become a much bigger burden for women. They’re exhausted, worn out by the tough demands of the pandemic, but still working to keep society going. Women’s work is too often undervalued, invisible and ignored.

“It’s the women doing sleep-in shifts to care for other people’s elderly or disabled relatives but who don’t get paid for every hour they work.

“The women cleaning hospitals, council buildings and schools to prevent the spread of viruses and keep us all safe. The women doing administrative work in local councils, schools, colleges, universities, and energy companies to make sure essential services keep running.

“The care system has been teetering on the edge for years. It’s a system that only gets by thanks to the selfless dedication of care workers who go above and beyond, and the many unpaid carers, most of whom are women. Women whose lives have been made tougher by the pandemic.

“But we mustn’t ever underestimate how much tougher that task is becoming. Gender inequalities, and the impact of race and disability have all been exposed and deepened through Covid.

“During the pandemic the gender pay gap has widened too, and many more women have been pushed out of the workplace than men. That’s scandalous.

“The battle for fair and equal pay goes on. As governments plan economic recoveries, they must not be allowed to overlook the inequalities faced by women. Or to invest only in male-dominated sectors and so deepening those inequalities.

“Politicians responded quickly to the lack of HGV drivers and it’s right that these transport workers should get decent pay for a demanding job.

“But if the government can act quickly to get more HGV drivers into the UK and pay them more, then ministers can act just as quickly to sort out staff shortages in social care, the NHS and social work.

“For too long, care and other essential services, have been seen as a drain on the economy when they should be seen as central to it. If we can get social care right, everybody benefits. That’s why a new national care service is so important.

“Too many leadership positions in UNISON are held by men. More women need to be coming through as leaders in branches, regions and at national level. “Some of the union’s elected national seats that are reserved for low-paid women remain unfilled or are regularly uncontested. It’s no wonder when you think about all the work they’re already doing.“The number of women and men in leadership positions should be in fair proportion to the number of women and men members in the union. Over 70% of members are women and that means at least 70% of the leadership positions should be held by them. But sadly, they’re not.

“To change this, we must ensure women are in a position to speak up on the workplace issues that affect their lives. And make sure men aren’t always the ones making decisions for women. That’s why I’ve launched a project to boost the participation of low-paid women in the union.

“We want to see more women campaigning on the issues that affect us all. If we make the workplace better for women, it will become a better place for everyone.

“Inflation is set to hit 8% this year and the national insurance increase is just months away. Interest rates are climbing and pay packets are being squeezed by rising food and energy bills.

“Unions must show their anger and contempt for those voices saying now isn’t the time for big pay increases. It’s time to fight back.

“Ordinary workers should not pay the price of the cost-of-living crisis. The government found the money to write off almost £10bn spent on dodgy contracts for useless or non-existent safety kit. And ministers did the same for almost £5bn in fraudulent claims from employers for Covid loans. Now the chancellor and the prime minister must find the money to give public sector workers an inflation-busting pay increase this year.”

Notes to editors:– The UNISON annual women’s conference took place on Thursday 17 and Friday 18 February 2022.– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.