Equalities news

Women | 24.07.2014

The TUC Women's Conference

This year’s Conference began the day after the death of Bob Crowe of the RMT union so started with a minute’s silence from the hall.

Chairing this year’s Conference was Sue Ferns, Director of Communications and Research at the Prospect Union, and member of the TUC General Council and Women’s Committee. Prospect represents around 13,000 women working in central government as research scientists, meteorologists, intellectual property officers, defence intelligence analysts and marine biologists for example. The lack of women in careers such as these is a nationwide problem which the union wants government to tackle. Prospect is campaigning for a minister-led commission to increase the percentage of women working in science, technology, engineering and maths careers from 13 percent to 30 percent by 2020.

Sue opened Conference and was of the opinion that in 2014 women had plenty that they should be angry about such as:

  • Food banks;
  • The bedroom tax;
  • The gender pay gap;
  • Pension provision;
  • Attacks on the public sector; and
  • Everyday sexism, to name just a few.

Vicky Knight, TUC Women’s Committee, chaired a panel discussion comprising eminent women including Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary and Gloria de Piero MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. Speaking in their own areas and answering questions from the floor, many issues which affect women were debated, such as:

  • Under the current Government, the best paid jobs are a no-go area for women;
  • Zero hours contracts have tripled;
  • Women do two thirds of the work for 10 percent of the pay;
  • Fair pay;
  • Women in politics;
  • The care system;
  • The recession which has increased child poverty, and many others.

This discussion set conference off to a great start as delegates listened to ideas that would allow the lives of women and their families go forward from the retrograde and damaging steps of the past four years.

Over 40 motions were debated and the POA Equalities Committee was represented by Helen Ffrench (delegate); Su Akram, Karen White, Nicola Beany, Chris Muzavazi, Joe Simpson and Terry Fullerton (observers). Motions covered austerity, growing poverty and inequality, violence against women, age, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying, porn, tribunal fees and others.

Helen seconded and spoke to five motions.

Seconding Motion 8, the Fire Brigade’s Union –

‘Unworkable Firefighter Pension Scheme’

This echoed issues which directly relate to our own pension headaches and retirement age and are similarly cause for huge concern bearing in mind the nature of both careers. The motion called on the TUC and affiliates to lobby Government to ‘achieve an affordable and workable occupation scheme’ – one which the POA supports and echoes.

Motion 19, Napo (Probation workers) −

‘The undermining of human rights and equality legislation’

This is in relation to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, covering the changes in the delivery of probation services and the impact, in particular, on women, the young and BME offenders. The POA seconded this motion, again sharing comparisons within the prison service, of the impact of Benchmarking, NWOW which, akin to the rehabilitation revolution, looks no more likely to deliver safer or better regimes but rather seek to make us a guinea pig at the mercy of cost-cutting and privatisation. The motion called on the TUC to publicise all attempts to undermine, circumvent or ignore human rights and for trade unions to play a major role in safeguarding hard fought for rights.

Composite Motion 3, Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) –

‘Young women and pornography’

The POA supported and thanked ATL for this motion which provided the opportunity to highlight the difficulties facing female officers who daily face an unnecessary and degrading culture in our prisons where pornography is not challenged, despite an overarching ‘decency policy’ which bans all these images. The commonplace acceptance of the presence of graphic, hardcore pornographic posters forces female staff to become desensitised in order to survive in the job. The POA believes that prisons are in a position to challenge a culture which damages young people and women alike, and one, which in all likelihood, contributes towards the rise of sexual assaults on female staff being seen in UK prisons.

Motion 32, ASLEF –

‘Breast is best, incentivising is wrong’

Despite having motions to address, write and deliver, the POA, in the shape of Helen, felt overwhelmingly moved to speak, yet again (how unlike her, you may think…) on this motion which, albeit clearly supporting a worthy cause, was asking for the government to be ‘lobbied to withdraw the shopping voucher incentive scheme’ – apparently, POA members at the TUC in a bid to lessen the guilt of mothers who are not able, for many and valid reasons, to breastfeed their babies. With no notes but much indignation Helen spoke against this part of the motion, in order to ask delegates to consider the unfair nature of removing support from those mothers who might both benefit from the voucher scheme for the encouragement to achieve a valid, beneficial aim and financially. Whilst this did not prevent the motion being passed, several delegates felt moved to support the POA stance to abstain from supporting this motion and additionally opened up the debate.

Emergency Motion 2, Napo –

‘Domestic Violence’

The POA seconded this motion to support a vital campaign in the arena of coercive domestic violence and the introduction of a Private Members’ Bill. Napo additionally asked that delegates get their local MP to support this Bill which is in the Commons on 6 June.

The general theme of resisting the current trend of reversing gains for women, made over recent decades, reared its head throughout the conference. Indeed a new term ‘concrete ceiling’ has taken over from the ‘glass’ one, this emerged in motion 26 where challenging the under-representation of women, particularly at senior levels of life still needs urgent action.

The UK Government holds the unremarkable position of 65th in the world, out of 190 countries, for its representation of women. Sadly also, history tells us that violence against women increases during recessions, which seems to be demonstrated by the surge in illegal internet pornography over recent years, which conference highlighted by its many motions dedicated to this subject, alongside bullying and violence of many kinds, to all ages of females, throughout the world. A trend which looks fearfully likely to continue unless action is taken by all right-minded members of society.

Trade union members have always been proactive in the support of the downtrodden of various hues and need to continue to be so. The members of the POA in particular have a very special role in working with people whom the courts have found to have violated the rights of others, in challenging attitudes and behaviours of those in our care.