7 August 2012

Report from UCU Equality Committee, Thursday 19th July 2012

Anne Blair had been elected the new Chair of Equality Committee in place of Laura Miles in the recent elections from the new NEC. A number of new equality NEC members were welcomed to the committee.

There was an election for Vice Chair of the committee, between Jim Thakoordin and Pat Roche. Pat won this election.

One of the issues under matters arising was a report that the union’s new Equality banner had made its first appearance at the recent World Pride event in London.

It was also agreed at the meeting, following a proposal by Laura Miles, that a message of support should be sent to the Remploy workers on strike against redundancies and factory closures that day.

The committee received reports from each of the four members standing committees (LGBT, Black members, Women members, and Disabled members) and a report from the Head of the Equality Unit, Helen Carr.  Under the LGBT members standing committee report Laura Miles drew the Committee’s attention to the worrying removal of voting rights from national equality reps in the FBU which had been reported to the TUC LGBT Conference in early July.

Jim Thakoordin moved a motion on behalf of the Black Members Standing Committee, in his name and that of Mumtaz Khan, which called for members to have the right to Black case workers if they requested one. This was opposed on the grounds that a very similar motion had already been defeated at Congress and that there were important questions of parity with other protected characteristics, as well as resource issues. The motion was defeated.

Helen Carr in her report noted that the union’s current representatives on TUC committees are now Paul Hambley for LGBT, Gargi Battacharrya for Black members, Pat Roche for Disabled members, and Maire Daley for Women members. These reps are being asked to provide written reports to every Equality Committee meeting and can present these in person if they wish to.

On the UCU’s own Single Equality Scheme the chairs of regional committees, devolved committees and others have been asked to ensure that this is an item on the agendas of meetings in the autumn.

Members of the Committee received a copy of the TUC Equality Law Update by Sally Brett. This is the TUC’s response to the government’s Red Tape Challenge and its review of the Public Sector Equality Duty. The report demonstrates how the government is weakening and undermining the infrastructure supporting equality, including cuts and reforms to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
PCS and Unite are running a ‘Save the EHRC’ campaign and can be contacted via Natasha@pcs.org.uk and jody.whitehill@unitetheunion.org

UCU is also part of a project with a number of other unions and Runnymede to monitor the equality impact of public service reform on workers.

The Committee also received a report on regional equality networks, which exist patchily at the moment.

There was a discussion about the implementation of Congress motions which fall within the remit of the Equality Committee. Two motions in particular (18 on Austerity and equality; and 19 on defending multiculturalism) call for the union to organise autumn conferences. There was discussion about the feasibility of doing this and the resources available. Some members of the committee proposed that the conferences could be subsumed within the annual conferences of the members standing committees or other events, but in the end the committee agreed to abide by the outcomes of the Congress decisions but to postpone the conferences until the Spring in light of the crowded agenda in the autumn due to the TUC demo in October and possible industrial action on pensions and pay in both FE and HE. This will be revisited at the next Equality Committee meeting.

There was a discussion about National Holocaust Memorial Day and how to commemorate this next year. The turnout at the conference in 2012 had been disappointing. It was agreed that options would be explored at the next meeting including consideration of regional events.

Finally, committee members were asked to consider a document on communication protocols. It is intended, apparently, to circulate such a document throughout the union. It was argued that this was necessary to remind union members about dignity at work issues for union staff, and about the potential for inappropriate and bullying behaviour via email etc. There are now a number of email forums in existence in the union.

There was some discussion about the obvious grey areas in this. One person’s robust discussion and communication could be another person’s intimidation. A number of members complained about heckling at Congress, but others pointed out that this was often traditional in trade union and political meetings.
There was disquiet from some members (including UCU Left members) about one sentence in particular in the protocol which said “Unreasonable behaviour is where other members or staff feel intimidated, threatened or abused.” This was felt to be too much of a catch all position and there needed to be some recognition of the need for evidence in such situations. It was agreed that an alternative phrase would be sought to reflect this point.

Laura Miles

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