Workplace equality is fast-becoming the new employment relations battleground, with Britain’s trade union movement increasingly focusing on the latest diversity issues and campaigns.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber signalled his determination to fight for workers rights in this area by calling on all employers to agree to promote equality.
In the foreword of the TUC’s second biennial equality audit Barber said matters such as equal pay and discrimination were now ‘burning issues’ for the organisation, which is determined to help improve the situation.
“Equality is at the heart of the trade union agenda" he said. "All employers should have a legal duty to promote equality and, in advance of any such legislation, they should do it voluntarily.”
Rights for reps
He also called for union equality reps to be given the same rights to time off as learning and safety reps, who are legally entitled to spend time away from their regular duties to focus on improving workplace conditions.
“Just as union workplace, learning and safety reps get time off to concentrate on making work a fairer, better skilled and safer place to be, there is a need for more equality reps to allow unions to fight discrimination and give more workers the chance of a better work-life balance.
"Giving equality reps, time off from their other jobs would help make this a reality,” said Barber.
The growing emphasis on equality issues, such as disability, parents’ rights and work-life balance started in 2001 when the TUC changed its own rules, requiring all unions to promote equality in their activities.
Unionised workplaces less discriminatory
The latest audit found that staff in unionised workplaces are less likely to suffer discrimination and will generally experience better levels of work-life balance than other workers.
The document also highlighted growing union success in negotiating better rights for parents and in fighting racism, sexism, ageism and homophobia in the workplace.
According to the findings 54% of union representatives had successfully battled for equal pay agreements, while just under half had negotiated better deals for gay, lesbian or bisexual workers.
“This survey proves that unions can make and are making a difference to the lives of millions of working people by encouraging employers to tackle the issues that could otherwise be ig