Equality reps 'must have full legal protection'

TUC Congress 2023: Unite delegate Angela Duerden moves motion highlighting the vital role of union equality reps

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Moving a motion on equal work, voice and pay, Unite delegate Angela Duerden highlighted the vital role of equality reps on Monday (September 11) at TUC Congress.

“The need for equality reps in preventing discrimination and advocating on behalf vulnerable people has only grown stronger in the past 13 years of Conservative rule,” she told Congress.

Slamming government attacks on trade unions, she also highlighted the government’s severe cuts to funding for “sister frontline organisations who work to prevent and tackle discrimination”.

“This is one reason why, despite many years of equality legislation and an increasingly diverse workforce, significant inequalities persist in Britain’s workplaces,” Angela noted.

She went on to point out the “huge gap” in the employment rate between working age disabled people and non-disabled people, as well as the gender pay gap, especially for women working part-time.

“We see young black men facing double the unemployment rate of young white men,” Angela continued. “And, while we celebrate legal advances for same-sex relationships, we see that LGBT+ workers are more than twice as likely to report being bullied or discriminated against than their heterosexual colleagues.”

Angela told Congress the real difference that unions can make in the workplace on equalities if they are recognised and have influence over decision-making on equality issues through negotiation.

“Equal opportunities policies are far more likely to be put into practice, monitored and produce better results,” she said.

Angela noted the vital contribution equality reps make by ensuring “equality is properly recognised as an industrial issue – from pay, to hours, working conditions, redundancies and restructuring”.

“Equality reps help to ensure issues of discrimination and harassment are identified sooner,” she added. “And they make sure action is taken at a collective level to prevent discrimination arising in the first place.”

Angela hailed the fact that the role of equality rep has attracted many more women and BAEM members to play an active role in their union for the first time.

“While we recognise the importance of equality reps, our task is to make sure employers recognise them too – and provide all appropriate facilities to do the job,” she went on to say. “That recognition will only be won by developing an organising strategy in our workplaces to win recognition agreements which include provision for reps to table equality issues for collective bargaining at every level.”

She emphasised that equalities issues must be recognised as issues to be negotiated collectively, “not punted off to some fake employee forums”.

“It is important these agreements properly define constituencies for electing union equality reps – making sure BAEM, women, LGBT+ and disabled reps are elected by and from those constituencies,” Angela went on to say.

Turning to the role that unions themselves must be play, she highlighted that they can support frontline equality reps by including rule changes to make sure equality reps have the same rights as all reps.

“That means negotiating guides, education courses and legal advice,” Angela noted. “And most importantly, it means proactive organising strategies to win recognition in every workplace.”

Angela also emphasised that equality reps must have full legal protection.

“That is why any future Labour government must support statutory rights to union equality reps when they enter office,” she added.

“But we must not wait,” Angela concluded. “We need to act as a movement now.”

The motion was carried.

By Hajera Blagg

Photo by Mark Thomas