Women’s Conference, Bournemouth, 14th – 16th February 2019
Julie Beasley – A Visitor’s Perspective
As last year, this was an interesting and lively conference, covering a wide range of topics too numerous to mention in a short report. What follows here are some highlights for me, and possibly some ideas or campaigns for branch committee to highlight to members.
Conference got off to a lively start with its prioritised motions, the first of which was campaigning for Safety within the Social Care Workforce, which continues to be live issue with the Birmingham Care Workers, who are continuing their industrial action.
The discussion focussed on the commodification of care, looking at time issues, travel and continuity, amongst other things. Since the privatisation of many of these services, profit would seem to take precedence over care and safety, for both carers and their clients.
Care also surfaced later, highlighting the number of women carers who give up paid employment, or go part time in order to care for family members, and underlined how there is an absence of good workplace policies. Unison has published new guidance on this.
Several motions with health, safety and wellbeing, mental and physical, in the workplace were also passed on the first day and included all aspects of women’s health. A database should be up and running within 6 months, to include details of support groups and campaigning organisations, general wellbeing information and policy info.
Pensions featured again this year, this time via the Back to 60 Campaign, who are raising the issue of pension fairness for women born in the 1950s, much like the WASPI campaigners who came to last year’s conference, but with a different focus, which is to ensure that the state pension age is kept at 60 for women born in the 1950s. The campaign has been successful in securing a Judicial Review, which will take place on the 5th and 6th of June this year.
Reciprocal pension arrangements for black women were also discussed, highlighting the fact that it’s where you retire to, not where you’ve paid in that determines whether your state pension increases year on year. Whilst EU citizens, and those in some other countries, e.g. America, have reciprocal agreements, most Commonwealth countries do not have this (with a few exceptions) and it affects predominantly black women.
Sexual harassment was discussed, both inside and outside the workplace, as well as the Ask for Angela initiative, to help young women gain assistance to extract themselves from an uncomfortable or threatening date. This initiative is to be promoted over the next year and reps invited to the 2020 conference.
Women and debt was on the agenda too, from the increasing use of food banks to period poverty. Conference encourages all branches to set up sanitary protection donation and collection points. The Red Box project was at conference to take donations.
Maternity rights were also discussed in several motions, including support and rights for those who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth, and rights during maternity leave as well as in the workplace. Unison passed motions to update its own guidance and report back to conference next year.
At the other end of our reproductive lives, Menopause was also on the agenda, highlighting the need for guidance for employers.
There were 39 motions altogether, and Conference got through them all, finishing at 1pm on the Saturday.
All in all, an enjoyable and illuminating three days, covering a wide range of topics pertinent to today’s workforce. Speakers included the Labour MP for Tooting, Rosena Allin-Khan, the shadow minister for Sport, who gave an inspirational account of her own life from her education at the local comprehensive, to Doctor to MP in 2016, holding Sadiq Khan’s seat (no relation) with an increased majority.
A final note on a workshop I attended, run by an organisation called Let Toys be Toys, a campaign started in 2012 to challenge stereotypes around signage in shops, labels, packaging, catalogues and marketing. Examples of marketing in the 1970s through to the 80s, when my children were born, was much more even-handed; multi-coloured toys played with by girls and boys, including items like toy kitchens and trains as well as Lego. More recently, there has been a distinct pink-blue divide in everything from signage to packaging to shelf placement, and toys are more gendered now than at any point in the 20th century. It’s quite shocking to me that my 3 year old granddaughter is targeted in a way that my own children, including her mother, born in 1984, were not, bombarded now by pink everything, and even girls’ versions of what I thought were gender neutral toys, from Lego to cameras.
The campaign has been very successful so far, persuading no less than 14 retailers, including Debenhams, Tesco and Morrisons, to change the way they sell and market toys from gendered to general. Now it’s time for manufacturers and advertisers to change too.
Children need to be educated – and challenged about gender stereotypes, as young as possible:
“If we want equal pay, why not start with equal play”
On this note – I’d encourage you to watch this short video – a great example of some inspired teaching around debunking some of the myths around gender stereotypes:
Sarah Pickett – a delegate’s perspective
I attended conference as a delegate this year which meant I got to vote on all of the motions which was great. Julie has mentioned broadly the main sorts of issues that were covered so I will just talk about the few issues that caught my interest. For me two of the most engaging debates were about motions on LGBT+ inclusivity and Trans Women.
The first was ‘Making the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Group fully inclusive’ from the LGBT self-organised group(SOG). This was about supporting the change name of the group to LGBT+ and supporting the LGBT groups move to organise on an LGBT+ (plus) basis. This called on women’s conference to:
- Work with the National LGBT committee to circulate information to branch and regional women’s groups on what the name change means.
- Encourage regional and branch women’s groups to campaign for support for any rule change proposal from LGBT Conference to National Delegate Conference regarding changing the name of the group to LGBT+.
The background to this was that it followed a motion from the national young members’ forum to 2017 LGBT conference highlighting the growth in the number of people, and young people in particular, identifying their sexual orientation and gender identity in many different ways beyond a binary definition, and expressing their preference for the LGBT group to organise in a more inclusive way. The LGBT SOG then had a consultation to which the overwhelming majority of the consultation responses, and all of the regional group responses, were in favour of the changes and the national LGBT committee therefore submitted a motion to 2018 national LGBT conference proposing changing the name and working to make the group more inclusive.
The second motion, ‘Show Transphobia the Red Card’ was from the Isle of Wight Local Government Branch. This motion welcomed UNISON’s position on the Gender Recognition Act where UNISON supported self-Identification but noted that much work is still needed to gain acceptance that Trans women are women and should be accepted and included in our union. It pointed out that there is no evidence to suggest that anyone goes through the process of transitioning in order to gain access to women’s safe space. It expressed concerns about the number of anti-trans groups spreading hate around the issues of the GRA and self-identification and this was creeping into our women’s committee by means of leaflets. The motion called on the Women’s committee to:
- Work with the women’s committee on eradicating transphobia within UNISON.
- Work with the national LGBT committee to create and promote the role of Trans Ally as a buddying role across all branches.
- Distribute the UNISON trans policy to all Regional Women’s Committees and Branch Women’s officers to ensure support for our Trans sisters is disseminated through the women’s network of UNISON.
- Work with Stonewall in order to educate all women’s in term of the Trans community and the hate they face.
- Ensure that all transwomen members are aware of the support that is available to them.
The reason I was so fascinated by the reaction to these two motions was that there was a definite shift in Women’s Conference attitude to both these issues compared to last year. When a motion on non-binary inclusion was put forward at last year’s conference there were a whole raft of speakers against. The speakers indicated they didn’t understand what non-binary meant, that they were concerned about toilets and changing rooms who might have non-binary or trans women using them, that it was a ‘complicated argument’ and they encouraged women to vote against. Thankfully that vote was won last year but this year there was not one speaker against either motion and the vote on both was an overwhelming accept, I actually didn’t spot any votes against. I was glad to see that UNISON is evolving and views are changing, and it makes me hopeful that younger people will see the union as more representative of their views.
I attended a meeting on Education where FE, HE and school issues were discussed. The main chat around HE was on pay with one university saying that they were sure they got a large reject vote in the last ballot and were keen on the HE Service Group exec committee considering a disaggregated vote in the next pay round. I explained that there had been no definite decision yet on how to run the ballot and that the HE SGE would be discussing that in future meetings. I also let the meeting know about our success in getting UNISON members in our Student Union pay adjusted with 2 years back payments when our branch secretary discovered that term time only members were not being paid correctly. I suggested that other branches checked with their Student Unions to see if their pay was all in order.
Overall it was a very interesting conference and although the motions were mostly non-controversial and voted through easily, as always, it’s often in the breaks when you get to meet women from branches all over the country and hear their experiences and how their branches organise which are some of the most illuminating conversations. I’d like to express my thanks to the branch from both me and Julie for the opportunity to attend.