The UCU National Equality conference in Eastbourne ran from 12 November to 14 November.
The Women’s Conference was on the 12 November. The conference considered the minutes of the 2014 conference as well as the annual report of the Women members standing committee. A keynote speaker was Mandy Brown from Lambeth College who spoke about their recent victory after sustained strike action. The annual report highlighted aspects such as abortion rights, lad culture, congress motions relating to women and casualization and women’s access to education. It also noted areas that had been taken to FE sector (women and the economy and women and work/life balance. HE sectors motions related to lad culture (a motion that I had put up) plus the REF impact upon women. Additionally areas highlighted in the report included the sexual harassment survey. TUC women’s conference, the UCU film for International Women’s Day and the work of the end Violence campaign. Motions taken to the Women’s conference were on domestic violence, child benefits cap and mothers in education, cuts to adult education and gender impact and equality in practice
The Women’s Conference included 3 workshops. I facilitated a packed workshop on sexual harassment and lad culture. UCU has recently undertaken a national survey to find out the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace. A total of 2367 replied. 81% were in HE. 48% indicated they had experienced sexual harassment and 68% said this was from a colleague. The worrying aspect here was that only 13% went to the union about their situation. So what the workshop aimed to address was why this was and what we could do about this. There were strong links noted in the workshop between the experiences of the students related to lad culture and sexual harassment experienced by staff. It was felt that HE culture since marketisation of education was largely responsible. What we are considering therefore in the future is likely to be a campaign with posters and stickers. This will be further discussed at the next WMSC in January 2016.Other workshops held at the same time included one on the attack on adult education (Rhiannon Lockley) and one on women and casualization (Christina Paine)
Friday 13 November saw the joint plenary session for all participants from all four groups.
The plenary heard from the Chair of the Equality committee and the UCU president on contemporary areas and concerns related to equality. Then keynote speakers included Quinn Roache from the EHRC. He provided a most interesting overview of a November 2015 survey on discrimination in the workplace. This involved some 3000 women interviewed over the phone as well as interviews with employers. Particularly concerning was pregnancy and maternity discrimination as well as harassment/bullying and a number of other forms of discrimination. EHRC are producing employer’s toolkits and good practice videos. Another keynote speaker was Don Flint (chief Executive of Migrants Rights network). Don drew our attention to education on the frontline and the government offensive on education. Particularly emphasised was the expectation that those of us in education should police students. He also raised concerns about the ‘outsourcing of immigration to the community’ e. g getting driving instructors to check passports. We could also see connections to the Prevent agenda. We also heard from Wilf Sullivan (TUC race equality officer) and Alaa Elaydi from NUS
There were then several workshops. I facilitated a workshop on the participation of equality groups in the union. This workshop had 3 excellent speakers from Disabled Members Standing Committee (Paul Lunn), LGBT members standing committee (Steve Boyce), Black members standing committee (Dave Muritu). There were great ideas about getting members involved and each speaker was particularly encouraging towards getting more active members from their groups.
Other workshops held at the same time included equality bargaining, the politics of hate, sustainable working lives, equality issues in devolved nations.
The other conferences (black members and disabled) followed the plenary and Saturday was for LGBT members. Overall, this was an excellent conference and involved lots of brilliant workshops and lively discussions.
Report from Sue Abbott, NEC member (women’s seat)