A delegation of women from across Community joined together to represent the union at the TUC Women’s Conference that took place in London from 6 – 8 March.
The annual event provides an opportunity for women trade unionists to set the TUC’s campaign priorities for the year ahead for women in the workplace and in wider society.
Community took forward motions calling for parental leave for the self-employed and on professionalising social care. Community delegates also spoke in support of motions on menopause and the workplace.
Moving the motion on parental leave for the self-employed, Meghan Marsh, a Community member from the union’s finance sector, said:
“Trade unions fought for maternity rights to be put into law, because far too often working women are discriminated against in the workplace.
“Unfortunately, as with most things relating to women’s rights, we still have a long way to go because in current legislation too many women have been left behind.
“There are around 5 million self-employed people in the UK, many of which are women. We know that many of our members enjoy the flexibility and freedom of working for themselves, and of choosing when and where they work. However, if these women chose to start a family and have children, they have little or no access to maternity protections, shared parental leave and adoption leave or pay.”
Meghan cited research which shows that many self-employed women return to some form of work within two weeks of birth and that their businesses often run at a loss at this time.
The problem is compounded because self-employed mothers who take up paid work whilst on their maternity leave are likely to lose their maternity allowance.
“Imagine working for just one hour a day for 10 days, and a single hour over that would mean losing your entire maternity allowance and having none of the legal protections that are afforded to employees,” Meghan told delegates.
“Women in self-employment or looking to go into self-employment should not have to choose between flexibility and their rights, or to make a choice between having children and pursuing their career.
“As a labour movement, we need to secure rights for all working women, not just those in traditional employment. This means access to adequate maternity pay, and robust protections if those women do choose to have a family.”
Community’s second motion to the conference called for the social care workforce to be professionalised. Tracy Barlow, a member of Community’s National Executive, spoke on behalf of the union.
She painted a picture of the daily challenges faced by social care workers: the lack of guaranteed working hours, an inability to spend appropriate time at appointments, having to race between visits because travel time is unpaid.
“It’s clear that health and social care in the UK is facing a crisis,” Tracy told delegates, highlighting the fact that the social care funding gap is projected to reach £2.1 billion by 2020 while the population is ageing.
“To solve these challenges, the government has to stop treating social care as an afterthought. That means they have to start understanding the social care profession and stop underfunding it.”
Tracy went on to highlight some of the barriers social care workers have to overcome, particularly around training. There is no effective or accredited training and care providers each deliver their own courses, which they insist workers complete, regardless of their experience.
The final contribution to the debates at Women’s Conference came from Carol Hodgson, an activist in Community’s Midlands region. Carol spoke in support of a motion about menopause and the workplace.
Telling the conference that she is ’53 years young” Carol went on to recount her own experience:
“Last year I became very anxious. I was rude, irritable, crying all the time. Including one day, crying for over an hour because I could not spell the word ‘confirm’.
Suspecting she was going through the menopause, Carol sought out an explanation and some help. She recounted how she didn’t get the support or understanding she needed from her male GP and a male pharmacist.
“I went to work, I told my manager the real reason I was crying for over an hour. My manager went to their manager who peered over their glasses and said nothing. Fifteen minutes later I was called into a meeting. I was told we’ve got this. I was told about the shower on the 4th floor if I need it. I was told about the monthly support group meeting which is held away from the work building. Told that my yearly grading will be successful if I can improve it, but I can never fail, because of it. If I need to change my duties at any stage, I can do.
“It is important to point out my manager is a woman, her manager is a woman, the deputy manager is a woman. In fact, the centre manager is a woman. But it shouldn’t be that way, for me or for other women workers. The gender of the management of a workplace should not dictate the support that is given to preserve the health and wellbeing of its workforce.”
Community’s delegation to the TUC included reps and activists from steel, justice, finance, betting, logistics and our community branches. Community’s work continues in representing and supporting women members of the union.
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