'Reps are part of our movement'

Unite AGS Diana Holland highlights vital importance of union equality reps at TUC 2021

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On the second day of TUC Congress on Monday (September 13), Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland highlighted the importance of union equality reps and the pressing need for their statutory rights in all workplaces.

Moving a composite on defending and supporting union reps, and winning rights for union equality reps, Holland paid tribute to TUC President Gail Cartmail, who also serves as Unite assistant general secretary, as well as Unite’s new general secretary Sharon Graham, who, she said, “has won support from Unite members to put bad employers on notice, equality on the bargaining agenda and to prioritise reps in the workplace”.

“For millions and millions of workers across the country, their union is their shop steward or union rep at the workplace,” Holland noted. “Thousands of trade union reps making a difference at work and beyond.

“And while we have some powerful examples of employers during COVID-19 who recognised just how vital union reps are to everyone’s  safety, jobs, pay, dignity and security, so, too, we have had other employers who have shamefully used the pandemic as an excuse, and targeted reps for discipline, for redundancy and for unfair treatment.”

Holland noted that the motion calls “for us to come together to send a strong, united message” to those bad employers that they will not get away with it and that unions are organising together.

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” she continued. “But this motion goes further. It also calls for that strong, united union action to advance equality – as the suffragettes said – not just in word, but in deeds too.”

Integral to this work, she went on to say, was “negotiating now for union equality reps to be treated equally, to get paid time off, union education and facilities just like other reps, and to be there at the bargaining table — and for all of us to redouble the campaign for statutory rights for union equality reps to become a reality in all workplaces”.

Turning to the pandemic, Holland noted how Covid-19 “has exposed the legacy of austerity and the deep, searing, underlying inequalities which have cost lives, livelihoods, safety, jobs, security and well-being”.

“COVID-19 has also shown just how vital our workplace reps, including union equality reps are,” she said.

Holland highlighted how in different sectors, equality reps made a huge difference during the pandemic.

For example, in aviation, when reps found that black and disabled workers were disproportionately facing redundancy, Unite stepped in to expose the discrimination and make things fairer.

“In health,” she added, “reps identified how black staff are disproportionately on the front line being passed over for senior roles, and so we are supporting the action set out in the ‘Snowy White Peaks’ report.”

Meanwhile, in finance, Holland went on to say, “we have exposed a large gender pay gap,which we are pressurising the employer to close”.

She welcomed how the ITF and transport unions globally have developed Women’s Advocates, to support survivors of domestic abuse, violence and harassment. In road transport and logistics sectors domestically, Unite has also called major employers together to support mental health and wellbeing.

Holland also highlighted the gaping pay gaps faced by Black and Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM), disabled and LGTB+ workers, as well as how Unite has “acted on sexual harassment as a horrifying reality faced by LGBT+ workers too”.

“And across sectors, we have challenged employers who ignored pregnant workers’ rights to safety, without loss of pay,” she said. “We have negotiated for shielding disabled workers to be paid fairly, rather than just minimum sick pay.

“Workplace reps, including union equality reps, are at the heart of identifying these issues, and at the heart of resolving them,” Holland went on to say. “Thinking of all the motions we are agreeing at this Congress – whatever the issue, we need a strong network of union reps to make them a reality.”

Not just for this week’s safety issue, not just for this year’s pay negotiations, but as a permanent fixture to protect and improve the lives of working people now and in the future,” she affirmed.

Moving the composite and calling for its support, Holland concluded, “Workplace reps are the living breathing presence of the union at work. Reps in each workplace do not stand in isolation. They are part of a movement — our movement.”

You can tune in live to TUC Congress 2021 here. And don’t forget to check on UniteLive for coverage of Congress, which will be updated throughout the day.

By Hajera Blagg

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