Women’s STUC report

By Claire Sawers

There were six women repping for the NUJ at this event in Caird Hall in Dundee on November 2nd and 3rd, including myself and Mary Lockhart from the Edinburgh freelance branch.

Over two days we listened to more than 30 motions covering a wide range of issues, including Women in Sport, Mental Health in the Workplace, Education for Women and Girls Internationally, Making FGM reporting mandatory, UNstaffed Railway Stations, Casualisation and Women in Higher Education, Older Women in the Workplace, CalMac (proposals to privatise certain ferry lines considered lifeline services), Welfare Cuts, Breast Screening and Access to Abortion in Scotland.

There were over 200 women delegates there, from unions including Community, Educational Institute of Scotland, Fire Brigades Union, NASUWT and Unison (amongst others).

The NUJ hadn’t proposed any motions this time, although we did speak in support of 3;

  1. Restricting Funding of the BBC (Mary)
  2. Integration of Health & Social Care (Mary)
  3. Women and Trade Unions (me)

1) For the first, a delegate from Equity called for the STUC women’s committee to oppose the government’s proposals to restrict BBC funding, which would reduce its capacity to provide quality programmes; both entertainment programmes and those relating to public interest issues.

The speaker discussed possible alternatives to the BBC license fee system in place at the moment, including making it a cooperative. The point was raised that, worryingly, as it stands, 3 men own 80% of UK media. It was also mentioned that women have been accused of holding a ‘decorative’ role within the BBC, with ongoing accusations of ageism and sexism.

2) For the second, the conference called for STUC women’s committee to lobby the Scottish Government to put focus on budgets for integrated health and social care, to ensure patient care outcomes are the absolute priority and not fragmented. Currently, resources are sucked out of patient care, and outcomes are for political ideology, having an adverse effect on those delivering the services, predominantly women, and those receiving the care and support needed.

3) This motion was put forward by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. Their delegate spoke about the importance of women joining a union, as it is generally agreed that those who belong to a union have better pay, conditions and security – but it’s particularly important at the moment, during times of austerity. Unions are especially under threat at the moment, due to the Trade Union Bill, which would make it harder for employees to strike, maintain the right to organise in the workplace, and engage employers in discussions about better conditions, health and safety issues, stress levels, pay etc.

I supported the motion, and said it was especially important to make non union members aware of what exactly a union does, which specific union would be relevant to them, and also be aware that many workplaces and employers still discourage (whether openly or more subtly) union membership, or refuse to recognise them during discussions or disputes. More effort should be made to interest young people and women in trade unions, and raise awareness of the benefits they can bring. Trade unions can also improve (through a forum like the STUC conference) the ways in which they network with other trade unions – there are plenty of crossover issues (eg zero hours contracts, sexism in the workplace, sexism in the media, gender pay gaps, illness or ageing affecting professional performance etc) and link up to find shared solutions to some of the common problems.

Other topics that came up that seemed to cross over directly with the NUJ were:

  • Misogynistic attitudes to women in public life – with examples given from Scottish and UK politics as well as mainstream print, digital and broadcast media.
  • Women in sport – the gender pay gap in most sporting roles is huge, and the media reporting is often sexist.
  • Mental health in the workplace – there were calls to raise awareness of problems associated with mental health, and also examine the ways in which we report it in the media.
  • Domestic violence and abuse – although the motion focussed on funding cuts to domestic abuse services to women and children across Scotland, the point was also raised that the media has a role to play in ensuring that women’s voices remain at the forefront of the campaign to end violence against women.