Friday, 30 October 2009

The Future for Equality Reps?


I attended a lively, packed event yesterday. As project manager of the GFTU's union modernisation fund (UMF) equality reps project I delivered, with Judith Jackson, GFTU Head of Educational Services) (on left of picture) a project dissemination event in Telford.
Delegates listened to presentations from project partners including the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and GFTU affiliate union CONNECT.
In addition there were two excellent presentations from equality reps trained as part of the project. Paul Greenwood, a UNITE equality rep, thanked the GFTU for the opportunity to become an equality rep, whilst James Stribley (on right of picture top left) a GMB regional convenor for the GMB in Yorkshire, delivered a presentation jointly with Majid Hussain (Inclusion & Diversity Manager - REMPLOY) (left of James in picture) on a joint strategy to embed increased activity around equalities across all activity within the company.
A particularly interesting aspect of the day was a discussion hosted by the conference chair Joe Marino (BFAWU General Secretary and current GFTU President) on the challenges facing equality reps.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of delegates who contributed cited the disappointment of not having statutory rights to paid time off to carry out their role. One delegate went as far to comment that he felt he had to 'lie and cover up' his equality rep role under the guise of his existing shop steward's role by saying that he was undertaking 'union business'.
Whilst this discussion did not in any way undermine the highly positive way in which the conference proceeded and concluded it did leave me, as project manager, wondering what future equality reps would have.
Will reps, without statutory rights, be sustained through the role being 'dropped onto' the back of the steward, ULR, safety rep role - as it clearly the case that equality strands run through these role also, or will interest drop off over time as these reps concentrate on primary aspects of their core role?
As always, comments welcome.


Andrew Maybury said...
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Andrew Maybury said...
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Andrew Maybury said...

Hi Ian, I think the issue of facility time for all reps will become more of an issue soon. I have heard that all local authorities have been sent a freedom of information request by a national daily paper (Telegraph?) asking how much facility time is provided for union reps. No doubt this information will be used to attack facility time as a disgraceful misuse of council tax payers' money, rather than arguing that we do a really useful and necessary job and that we should have more time off to represent our members.

Andrew Maybury said...
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Ian Manborde said...

Hi Andrew,

Many thanks for the post.

This doesn't surprise me at all. Although the Tories are being fairly guarded about their wider political programme they have been keen to point out that:

- They want to significantly push forward the breakdown of centralised pay bargaining in central government and allied organisations
- They see UNISON as having too much power within local government and other bodies

These two issues alone (reported in The Times earlier this year) mean that the focus on facility time is, as you say, potentially one of the ways that a new government could seek to undermine the position of UNISON reps like you.

As you also say Andrew, the point made in the right-wing press will not be about how much money you actually save the taxpayer, but what a 'burden' you are.

Many thanks again for the contribution.


Emiliano Zapata said...

A desperate fight ensues for all forms of trade unionism. The so-called leaders of the once mighty movement have looked away as a mutated party of labour has done its best to emasculate our power and base. Trivial discussions will be as nothing over the next 5-10 years and Christ knows what will be left of us thereafter.

Ian Manborde said...

Comrade Zapata,

Thank you for your bleak assessment of our joint future.

You'll forgive me if I disagree somewhat with your presciption as it ignores the significant fight that trade unions will engage employers and the government in during what I agree will be a testing time.

I actually think that, whilst the prospects of a changed government are not good, that trade unions have faced worse and still survived.

You ignore the innate desire on the part of humans globally to organise in many guises to defend and promote their interests and the current climate spurs this on.

This is not a time to shove your head into the sand, but stand up resolutely in what will be a challenging time.

Rteurning back to the question in my original post this means that a focus on the mistreatment of workers based on their status will require added focus and resolution - as worseing economic periods are historically those where discrimination increases.

Thanks anyway for your comments - glad to see that you are still with us!