'Ignored and stigmatised'

Unite delegate Jane Stewart makes key contribution in debate on menopause in the workplace

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Unite delegate Jane Stewart spoke passionately in support of a composite on menopause on Wednesday (October 19) at TUC conference.

Seconding the composite, Jane said, “Menopause is not an illness, it’s part of a woman’s life cycle and should be accepted as that without fear or embarrassment.”

But, she added, because it is considered a woman’s problem, “it has been ignored and stigmatised”.

“Women experiencing menopause are often labelled as too old and can’t keep up with the work anymore,” Jane explained. “No wonder they keep quiet about how symptoms affects them at work and don’t ask for support.

“This is part and parcel of where society places women. If not challenged, it can reinforce the idea that women don’t belong in the workplace.”

Jane highlighted the shocking statistic that in 2019, a million women left the workplace because of menopausal symptoms and lack of employer support.

“This only grows the unequal pay gap and pushes women into pension poverty,” she went on to say. “It’s still too often the case that when it comes to gender specific health, very few issues are discussed at work beyond pregnancy.

“But trade unions have been bargaining and winning around menopause for a long time,” Jane added. “We have insisted that employers provide information and support to all women – including BAEM, disabled and LBT+ women.”

Jane highlighted how Unite reps have been at the forefront of negotiating menopause and health and safety policies that include training, flexible working, reasonable adjustments, good rest facilities, toilet breaks, suitable uniforms, easily accessible cold drinking water, suitable sanitary facilities, and fair sickness policies.

“We have made sure employers comply with health and safety legislation, consult with reps and carry out proper risk assessments,” she said. “All this work has been won as we train the next generation of union reps to take this issue on in the workplace just as they would any other.”

Urging conference to support the composite, Jane said, “It isn’t the menopause or its symptoms that lets women down – it’s bad employers.

“Change is needed and we must be the ones to push it forward,” she concluded.

The composite was carried.

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas

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