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What can an equalities rep do during Coronavirus?

Anna Mowbray
Anna Mowbray
13th May 2020

In my last post I talked about the importance of reps keeping up their work to represent members in this challenging time. At times like this it is important that we don’t use a crisis as an excuse to allow discrimination to go unchallenged or allow equalities work to be under prioritised. So it’s useful to look at what exactly equalities reps could be doing right now to support colleagues.

We’ve already seen, for example, that Covid-19 appears to be disproportionately affecting BAME workers and although we don’t yet know the cause of this discrepancy, this highlights how times of crisis are often disproportionately felt by equalities groups.  

As an equalities rep you play an important role in understanding how the reaction to this crisis affects the workers in your workplace. Often, simply by looking at what is happening through an equalities lens, you can help your employers to identify where there may be gaps in policies for certain situations, or where their approach may indirectly discriminate against certain groups.  

What can you still do during this time?

The most important thing you can do is to continue listening to members, finding out what is happening and raising issues. You might need to think differently about how to reach members in your branch by using technology to communicate with members at home or using posters or leaflets to communicate with colleagues who are social distancing. 

When talking to your members you might find that there are cases of direct or indirect discrimination in how furlough is being administered. Or you might find that colleagues are incorrectly being placed on sick leave rather than furlough, which is having a disproportionate effect on certain groups (for example, those about to go on maternity leave). You could work with your employer to highlight these examples and negotiate for a better deal.   

You might work with your disabled members to getting appropriate reasonable adjustments put in place. This could be more important than ever, as many people have transitioned to working from home which could affect the reasonable adjustments that are needed by members. You may even need to negotiate to ensure employers continue to uphold existing reasonable adjustments.   

You can still work to raise awareness of important topics and mark significant dates. That might mean sharing articles, or campaign materials or acting online. You can share news and events using tools like WhatsApp groups, internal intranet sites, or Facebook.  

Remember that even if you or your colleagues are furloughed you can continue to carry out your rep duties. That means that you can continue to represent your members online or by video call, for example if you are involved in a representation on a discrimination case.  

What can’t you do? 

However, some of your duties might have to wait until lockdown is lifted. You won’t be able to organise in person events or gatherings.  

Be aware, that enforcement of gender pay gap reporting has been suspended for this year- meaning that employers didn‘t have to share their 2019 data by the 4th of April deadline (30th March in the public sector).  But that doesn’t mean that work on this area should stop completely if it can be done- it’s recommended that this data is still published and shared later this year. Community are releasing some new advice and tools on this later in the month.  

Depending on priorities in your workplace, it may be more difficult to run things like equalities audits, particularly if the HR partners you are working with are prioritising COVID-19 responses. However, if you can, keep talking to your employer about these topics, and understand what the revised timelines will be.  

This will put you in the best position to hit the ground running as we slowly transition to lifting lockdown.  

Most importantly, the more of us there are, the stronger and more effective we are. Sign up your friends and family to Community today.

This blog article is written by Anna Mowbray, a Community rep in the Zurich Swindon branch.

For more advice about equalities or to sign up as an equalities rep, email equalities@community-tu.org. Find more information about the equalities work delivered by Community here.