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‘From strength to strength’

Unite’s Unity over Division campaign boosted by the first ever UK local authority to sign up to workplace charter
UniteLive, Tuesday, October 6th, 2020


Unite’s Unity over Division (UoD) campaign has received yet another boost after Caerphilly County Borough Council in Wales became the second employer to sign the campaign’s workplace charter – and the first ever local authority in the UK.

It’s also the first time that other unions have jumped on board to embrace the Unite initiative.

Unite, GMB and Unison signed the charter with Caerphilly County Borough Council on Tuesday (October 6) which has committed all parties to work together to promote a more tolerant and inclusive place of work, with a radical vision of equality at its heart.

Unity over Division was launched by Unite in January last year in response to the rise of the far right in Britain and across Europe, and the increase in racist incidents and hate crimes more generally.

The Unite campaign is aimed at ensuring that the government’s vicious austerity policies are exposed and that progressive solutions are argued in every workplace where the union organises.

Challenge the far right’s narrative

It’s also aimed at equipping Unite officers and activists with counter arguments to challenge the far right’s narrative, including myths around immigration and migration in Britain, the welfare state, NHS, education and women’s rights.

The Unity over Division workplace charter first grew out of a series of regional Unity over Division conferences attended by Unite reps and activists across the UK.

“One of our colleagues came up with the idea of the workplace charter and we were all very excited about developing the idea further and taking it into our workplaces,” explained Unite regional women and equalities officer Jo Galazka. “There was a recognition that we needed to take a proactive approach to take the campaign forward.”

Earlier this year, Nottingham Community Housing Association (NCHA) became the first employer to sign the charter in June. After this success, Jo immediately thought of Caerphilly County Borough Council as an employer to bring on board.

“We have a really good relationship with the council – we have regular meetings with all the trade unions and HR, they’ve signed previous charters before and Philippa Marsden, who is a former Unite executive council member, is now leader of the council. We knew it would be a win-win situation that the council would be open to.”

As expected, Caerphilly County Borough Council embraced the idea of signing the Unity over Division charter, but went even further.

“Instead of quietly signing the charter they put it up to a vote on full council because they believed it was such an important initiative that deserves discussion,” Jo explained. “But also putting it to full council forces that accountability – we all now have a responsibility to make it work.”

As part of the charter, the joint unions and the council will each appoint an inclusion champion who will be the lead person for the Unity over Division agenda. Their roles will be to collaboratively monitor, facilitate and promote workplace inclusion wherever possible.

The council has also committed to ensuring that every single staff member employed by the council, including those employed in schools, will be given mandatory training on how to adhere to the council’s equality and diversity policy. What’s more, both the joint trade unions and the council have pledged to produce materials throughout the year aimed at promoting equality and diversity in the workplace.

Wider community action

Fighting discrimination doesn’t simply stop where the workplace ends. The charter also commits the council and trade unions to work within their wider community –  where, for example, there are local and national examples of hate crime and discrimination they have pledged to stand together to condemn such incidents.

The charter moreover encourages the unions and the council to work with other organisations in a partnership approach to stamp out discrimination and promote equality.

For Jo, signing the Unity over Division charter is only the first step.

“We hope this is the start of something big to encourage other local authorities to do the same,” she said. “Caerphilly Council is the biggest employer in the area and they recognise the role they have. It’s not just in the workplace – it’s wider than that. People look to the council as the moral compass; they look to them for guidance and a steer on anything that may be happening in our communities. They also have a very wide reach, since their influence also extends into schools.”

Signing the Unity over Division charter now could not be timelier, Jo added. In the last seven years in Wales, hate crimes have doubled. She pointed to a Show Racism the Red Card report which found that children in the area as young as four and five were using racist language. She said teachers have expressed frustration at knowing how to deal with this – something that the Unity over Division charter can seek to address.

“With the growth of divisions we’re facing as a society, especially since Brexit, it’s more important than ever that we work together so that nobody faces discrimination; that equality is at the heart of all the decisions that we make; and that there’s a policy or charter that we can refer back to that reminds us all of our responsibilities we have in working towards these aims,” Jo noted.

The foundation to work together

“It gives us the foundation to work together towards a more tolerant society and community. It’s a reminder that when you come into work your experience matters, and that when you go home it matters too – it’s all interlinked. Even if one Caerphilly council worker faces an incident in their community, they then know that when they come into work, the support is there for them.”

Leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council Philippa Marsden welcomed the signing of the Unity over Division charter.

“Having attended the launch of the Unity over Division campaign with [Unite assistant general secretary] Steve Turner and colleagues in Cardiff back in October I was absolutely committed to the ethos to overcome issues of intolerance in the workplace by countering any debate with facts, through education and indeed tolerance,” she said.

“It was fortuitous that when the subsequent charter came along and I was approached to see if it was something that we could introduce to council I jumped at the chance to make a difference and as leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council I proposed a Notice of Motion to the council to for us to take on the charter as a local authority,” she added. “I’m proud that we will be the first local authority in the UK to do so.”

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, who leads the union’s Unity Over Division campaign work, also welcomed the charter.

“Unity Over Division’s workplace charter goes from strength to strength, now with the first local authority to sign up to the pledge. It is also significant that we have brought two other trade unions on board, the GMB and Unison, which demonstrates what we can accomplish when we work together. I want to congratulate Caerphilly County Borough Council and our representatives and officers involved in this initiative.”

“We know that racism and discrimination have no place in our workplaces. But too often the comments and actions of some, often in the guise of ‘banter’, can have a very damaging impact on others.  By committing to the charter, Unite and Caerphilly County Borough Council will challenge this culture head on in our joint efforts to bring about positive change to make all our workplaces safe, dignified and respectful places to work.”

By Hajera Blagg

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