'Concrete action will be the key barometer of progress'

Unite celebrates International Women’s Day – and fights for women in the workplace every day of the year

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International Women’s Day (March 8) is the day that people from around the world join together to honour women’s contributions to society and highlight the continued need for strengthening women’s rights and empowerment both in and out of the workplace.

As ever, Unite is celebrating International Women’s Day today — but the fight for better jobs, pay and conditions for women is a fight the union pursues every day of the year.

Last year, Unite proudly elected its first-ever female general secretary, Sharon Graham, who believes that the best way to empower women in the workplace is through trade unions like Unite that are laser-focused on winning for their members.

In a special Unite film, Unite highlights the steps the union is taking under Sharon’s leadership to fight for women in the workplace.

Commenting on International Women’s Day today (March 8), Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “As a woman, I have heard enough empty rhetoric and witnessed too much handwringing from some negotiators when it comes to delivering at the bargaining table for women”.

“For far too long we have prioritised making ‘policy’ in a vacuum over action at the workplace when it comes to tackling discrimination,” she added. “We can do better than legal ‘tick box’ exercises. From now on, concrete action will be the key barometer of our progress.”

In one recent win for women members in January, Unite member Tracey Scholes, the first-ever woman bus driver at the Manchester depot, was back in the driver’s seat after her employer the Go Ahead Group finally agreed to Unite’s demand for her hours and her pay to be protected.

The victory came after Tracey was essentially designed out of her job because of her short height when the company changed specifications on their buses, meaning she could no longer safely operate the new buses. She faced dismissal from her job, but thanks to Unite’s support and Tracey’s resolve, Go Ahead Group agreed to union demands that meant she could work different routes driving buses that hadn’t been modified. Most importantly, she kept her full pay and hours, which were threatened under different initial proposals from the company.

Meanwhile, in an ongoing campaign, Unite is fighting the closure of Northern Ireland’s only all-women homeless hostel, Regina Coeli House in Belfast. Support workers at Regina Coeli, Unite members, continue to bravely stage a ‘work-in’ occupation of the hostel, with strong support from Unite Community members and the wider local community as Unite lobbies for solutions to ensure the hostel stays open.

Commenting, Unite regional equalities and women’s officer Taryn Trainor wished all women a happy International Women’s Day and saluted the determination of Regina Coeli House workers and their supporters.

“Today is a day to reflect on the struggles of women over previous generations and to highlight the struggles of women today,” she said. “The bravery the women workers have shown in the Regina Coeli Hostel in Belfast with their continued work-in has been inspirational.  The women have continued their fight to highlight the need for this essential service for homeless vulnerable women.  Without their bravery it would have closed without an alternative in Northern Ireland.”

Unite’s national women’s committee chair and Executive Council member for women Jane Stewart had a special message on International Women’s Day.

“Unite celebrates International Women’s Day with women trade unionists across the UK and Ireland,” she said. “If I had a hammer, I’d smash the patriarchy!”

Unite national officer for equalities Siobhan Endean likewise extended a happy International Women’s Day to all.

“Unite national women’s committee sends greetings to our sisters across the globe on International Women’s Day,” she said. “We join you in the struggle for peace, equality and justice.”

By Hajera Blagg

Pictured above: Unite general secretary Sharon Graham with Unite Executive Council women members

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