*Trigger Warning* Sexual Harassment/Abuse, Domestic Abuse, Harassment
Alice Foxen – Unison Steward, Paramedic, Bournemouth
*Trigger Warning* Sexual Harassment/Abuse, Domestic Abuse, Harassment
This was my first Unison conference and what a conference to start with. Women from across the UK were brought together to discuss the difficulties that we face. Unison is made up of more than 70% women, and has over 1 million women members (Unison, 2023a). My branch, SWAAHB, is 48% female*. The days consisted of introducing and discussing motions, with powerful, passionate women speaking with confidence (and nerves) to their fellow members. We applauded one another and learnt from experiences. Here, I found myself surrounded by like-minded individuals all of which are fellow members of my union. Throughout the day I caught up with a colleague who I’d never met face to face before, but instead have spoken to many times over the radio whilst stood outside someone’s house, or in the air-con haven of the vehicle in the peak of summer and everything in between. Alongside us was a familiar face from my local ambulance station, and likely the person our branch members will email when asking for support. The three of represented South West Ambulance and Allied Health Branch (SWAAHB), one as a delegate and two as visitors. Delegates vote on motions and nominations; visitors watch and absorb.
Women are the most affected by the inflation rise – we are victims/survivors of domestic abuse, we are caregivers for children or elderly relatives, we are more likely to be in part time jobs and multiple at that. Reduced working hours means less pension contributions for retirement. On top of this some of us suffer from the challenges of the menopause, rape, abortion, racism, ‘woefully inadequate’ maternity leave pay and so much more. The motion for Cost of Living Crisis and its impact on Women who experience domestic abuse was wholly supported by the delegates. This called for an Emergency Domestic Abuse fund to support survivors of domestic abuse and a statutory right to paid leave for those experiencing domestic abuse. The speaker stated that she did not want domestic abuse to the normality for anyone.
2023 is the year of Black Workers, 2022 was the year of Disabled Workers. The General Secretary, Christina McAnea highlighted that this shouldn’t be just for the year, we should celebrate our members, colleagues, friends, and our diversity every year, every day. In Unison, Black is used to indicate people with a shared history. Black with a capital ‘B’ is used in its broad political and inclusive sense to describe people in Britain that have suffered colonialism and enslavement in the past and continue to experience racism and diminished opportunities in today’s society (Unison, 2023b; Unison 2023c).
Christina McAnea wants a world where women don’t need to clutch our keys on the way home, the need to rush home because you’re unsure if it’s safe, where there is no longer all of the first times that a woman; disabled person; Black person comes into a position of power.
Amazingly, in one region the threat of industrial action after an overwhelming vote, resulted in over 2000 band 2 workers having a pay uplift to band 3. This was the success story that I needed to hear and likely that you needed to hear. We’ve stood on the picket lines 4 times in the cold and rain since we voted for industrial action. We want to see change, we want to see better working conditions. We ‘smashed through’ our first round of thresholds for strike action, and we applauded the announcement that all but one ambulance service in the UK has now voted for industrial action in the second round of ballots. Let’s do it.
A young woman member and single mum, highlighted how we are closer to Victorian times as a women’s movement than we ever have been. She’s had her heating on 3 times since autumn, her landlord won’t install better heating. We have fellow members who are using food banks, or are choosing not to eat so that their children can eat. Women have 15% lower pay than men, the gender pay gap only widens if you’re Black, disabled, a victim/survivor of domestic abuse, a single parent (Women’s Budget Group, 2022).
A further motion discussed sexual harassment policies. Unfortunately this is not the first mention of sexual harassment, harassment or misogyny over the past year for me, or likely for yourselves. The recent arrest of Andrew Tait, the #MeToo movement, and disappointingly, disgustingly, my colleagues have faced this. I’ve seen my friends cry because of their experiences. Every person in a room at the Young Members caucus last year had been victim or knew someone who had been a victim of sexual harassment. I did however, disagree with a woman who stated to the conference only women can eliminate sexual harassment, this is everyone’s problem. Misogyny is defined as ‘feelings of hating women, or the belief that men are better than women’ (Cambridge Dictionary, 2023).
The Health service group met and discussed the campaign ‘Put NHS Pay Right’. Reflections from SWAST included a montage of picket line TV coverage presented by Unison staff member from the South West region who also used to be a firefighter. Our colleague highlighted that women are working their way up throughout ambulance representation in Unison. Other health colleagues (outside of SWAAHB) discussed learning from previous ballots one of which reached 49.3% (50% was required) and so are re-balloting. A second colleague mentioned that she had not turned her heating on since last autumn because she couldn’t afford it. The term ‘Cost of Living Crisis’ was better termed ‘Cost of Surviving’ because for some, this isn’t living.
The theme throughout the Women’s Conference 2023 was that women are a formidable force, the Suffragettes, Boudica, Florence Nightingale, the list is endless. We need to continue to empower one another and push for equality.
Feedback from ballot discussion with the Health Sector:
– Keep your details up to date online in order to receive your ballot paper (online, you may need to register on MyUnison)
– Even if you don’t want to vote in favour of industrial action, please send your ballot paper with this answer. Your vote counts.
– Branches felt that they needed extra support during the ballot from outside their branch by Unison
– Some ballots clashed with the postal strikes
– There were personal attacks via social media to Unison members. This is unacceptable.
*Via Activist Hub Dashboard 17th February 2023.
Domestic Abuse and Violence:
Rape and Sexual Assault Referral Centres: https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/other-services/rape-and-sexual-assault-referral-centres/locationsearch/364
Cambridge Dictionary (2023) Misogyny. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/misogyny
Unison (2023a) What we do. https://www.unison.org.uk/about/what-we-do/
Unison (2023b) Defining Black. https://www.unison.org.uk/about/what-we-do/fairness-equality/black-members/defining-black/
Unison (2023c) The Year of the Black Workers. https://www.unison.org.uk/news/article/2023/01/the-year-of-black-workers/
Women’s Budget Group (2022) https://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/The-gendered-impact-of-the-cost-of-living-crisis.pdf