The main purpose of this report is to evaluate whether the UMF Equality Officers project, has resulted in the union having a committed, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and well resourced and supported cadre of equality representatives. The project was piloted in North West Region and a single employer, DWP.
Historically, trade unions have often supported employment arrangements and bargaining priorities that sustain and reinforce discriminatory employment practices to the disadvantage of women and black workers.(Ellis, 1995).
Since the 1970s there has been a change in attitudes, in that Trade Unions have undertaken efforts to improve the representation of members from disadvantaged social groups within their internal structures.(Williams & Smith, 2008).
Trade Unions seek to promote equality at work by supporting, representing and negotiating on behalf of employees in the workplace and by influencing politicians and government (Bercusson & Dickens, 1996).
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is the fifth largest trade union in the UK, with over 300,000 members. PCS is organised throughout the civil service and government agencies, making it the UK’s largest civil service trade union.
PCS also organise widely in the private sector, usually in areas that have been privatised. We are a democratic organisation, run by our members, for our members. PCS campaign for fair pay and conditions, decent pensions for all and equality in the workplace and beyond.
PCS states it is committed to the promotion of equality for all its members. It recognises that within workplaces and within society, there are many people who experience discrimination and inequality on the grounds of sex, race, ethnic or national origin, religion, colour, class, caring responsibilities, marital status, sexuality, disability, age or other reasons based on their status or characteristics. This is not acceptable.
PCS believe that as a democratic trade union, it must ensure that those who experience inequality have a voice and are able to participate fully in the activities of the union and to take up representative posts.
PCS aims to support and encourage under-represented groups to become more active in the union and to remove any obstacles to participation.
PCS’ commitment to its equality agenda is evident in its application for funding under Round Two of the Union Modernisation Fund. Two priority UMF themes were identified as main objectives for PCS project:
There were seven UMF Round 2 projects concerned with the training and development of equality reps running in UNISON, Unite, the NUT, Prospect, PCS, GFTU/Connect and the TSSA. It expected that by the end of March 2010, there would be around 1,400 equality reps active in organisations in both the private and public sectors (TUC, 2010).
The project took place at the same time as the Equality Bill was progressing though parliament and when it became law in 2010, despite vigorous lobbying by TUC and other groups, the Act has not provided Equality Rep with rights to paid time off and training.
Over a number of years, PCS has taken the first steps in establishing equality representatives in workplaces. With a diversifying union membership and workforce, the Union Modernisation Fund (UMF) project was seen as important in supporting the development of the union equality representative role and tackling under-representation, particularly of women, Black, Asian and ethnic minorities, as workplace union reps.
The original project plan was designed to cover a 24month period. Initially, with funding being agreed in February 2008 then the project was scheduled for conclusion by February 2010.
There was some slippage at the start of the project period- to allow for the open recruitment exercise for the project worker, deliver training on project management and to establish the necessary links with an Academic Partner, through PCS tendering process.
Additionally internal issues had caused some further slippage- the process to determine which region the project was going to run in, the intervention of annual conference in the start up process and later in the programme, the scheduling for the initial survey to start building the equality rep job description had to be delayed due to National Campaign Ballot in Autumn 2008.
The end date was re- scheduled for 01/08/2010.
The project was split into 3 implementation stages:
Stage 1 identified existing equality representatives (at the outset only 21% of branches had Branch Equality Officers/Equality Reps) and those who might be interested in taking on this role. Both groups were surveyed with a view to establishing both the motivators and the barriers to union members taking on this role. This assisted in the important task of drawing up a job description for equality reps – their role had been undefined. At this stage a training needs analysis was undertaken, in addition to devising a recruitment strategy with the aim of ensuring greater coverage of BEO/ERs from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Stage 2 saw the implementation of the recruitment strategy and training programmes to support new and existing BEO/ERs, developing web based equalities information and creating networking opportunities. An annual consultative conference was held.
Stage 3 was identified as ‘into the field’ when the BEO/ERs would begin work in their localities, supported by a mentoring and pairing strategy with the union providing assistance in devising work plans and developing model agreements. A strategy for integrating this equality work within ‘mainstream’ union work was to be devised at this stage
At the outset, an initial survey about the aims of the project was widely circulated and discussed within the selected project area (i.e. within the DWP or a branch within the PCS North West Region).It was circulated to existing BEOS and Branch Officials, who were asked to complete a survey to assist in taking the project forward. The closing date for receipt of completed surveys was 8 December, 2008.
It included questions about establishing both the motivators and the barriers to union members taking on this role. This assisted in the important task of drawing up a job description for equality reps – their role had been undefined. Their views on promoting equality, the ongoing support they require, and their comments on plans for the toolkit.
The survey results were collated and informed the development of the next stages of the project, the training and development of BEOs, and the toolkit.
The key points were reported and underpinned the next stage developments.
Union equality reps need to be explained and promoted - a newsletter would help with this process, a definitive role needed to be produced; higher profile within branches of role with emphasis in addition to women’s officers role and not instead of.
“I would like more structure to the role i.e. a more definite idea of what the role should be. Also sometimes not all equality stuff goes to me it goes to the branch secretary and I think it should go to the equality officer.” (Exert from survey, 2008).
To meet this objective PCS use the medium of Branch Bulletins, Group Publications Activate and PCS View, together with advertising the project at its annual delegate conference (ADC) for the two years of the project. This allowed the delegates the opportunity to find out more about the project, speak with those involved in the project and to obtain relevant literature to take back to the branches.
The role of union equality rep has been growing in importance in recent years. This was clearly recognised by the Women & Work Commission of employers, trade unions, and other specialist representatives in its report, Shaping a Fairer Future:
“The Government’s support through the UMF to take forward the recommendations of the Women & Work Commission has been very important to raising awareness.
PCS has been very pleased to play its part in raising awareness of union equality reps as part of this project.” (Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, Public & Commercial Services Union.)
As well as the actions listed above, the union has raised awareness of union equality reps through:
Union equality reps can be drawn from a range of different situations,
“Yes I have been motivated by PCS or other union equality events but not always because they have been positive or inspirational. Sometimes it's been because they have been dreadful!”
A number of key concerns should be addressed in developing the role of Union equality rep, including:
The establishment of union equality reps is not an alternative to Women’s Officer Role but is in addition to it Concerns expressed that BEOs were replacing Women Officers which was a misconception.
All trade union activists needed to be up skilled in equality matters to ensure a strong commitment to advancing equality and representing members on equality issues. The establishment of union equality reps Is not an alternative to encouraging women, black members, young members, disabled members, and migrant workers to become activists, it is in addition to it.
A definitive national role for BEOs, together with basic information and model facilities agreement, identifying and removing barriers to Equality, Equality Duties, Equality Impact assessments (EQIA), relevant legislation, Make your vote count and Migrant Workers. Negotiating point’s equality audits, how to identify key equality issues how to encourage and involve all practical information, including examples and templates.
“There was a need for an equality officer in the contact centre as management were not acknowledging equality at all in a number of issues”.
“At present my branch does not have an equality rep as they have resigned due to ill health. As branch Secretary I am overseeing the area until we elect a new rep”.
“I am strongly committed to diversity and equality issues and believe the values of equality should underpin all we do as a union. . I think I continue due to sheer dogged determination; I do not feel that I have been supported in this role by my branch. One of the reasons I persevere is because I genuinely do not believe the wider PCS sees things the same way.”
“I am concerned at how ill justified supposed equality measures are being forced through by unelected, self appointed unaccountable networks/forums with many activists treat invisible at branch level who take on no responsibilities but are vociferous in their own self interest citing well dodgy fashionable latest theories.”
The results here demonstrated 3 specific things BEOs required to carry out their duties:
A great deal of concern was expressed in the survey that the role of promoting Equality should be on a firmer and more secure footing industrially and legally. It was felt that equality should be included in union recognition rights and procedural agreements, and there should be statutory rights for union equality reps.
The Project Manager, Phil Madelin, explains:
“Three other Unions have concluded their projects and have all reported that the lack of statutory rights to time off for equality reps has impacted on the delivery of their project aims. It was hoped that this issue was going to be addressed during the passage of the Equality Bill”.
The Equality Act received Royal Assent on 8th April 2010, and it failed to give statutory rights to Trade Union Equality Representatives.
The handbook was distributed in draft form at ADC and spent a period of time posted on the PCS website for comments- this was advertised through the pages of Activate in August 2009. Many delegates at ADC gave feedback together with Full Time Officers.& discussion also took place with senior reps within DWP group and the North West regional committee.
The handbook was produced and issued to all listed BEOs within the project area in February 2010. Alongside this it was re-loaded in its final form onto the website as the Equality Reps Toolkit. This formed the basic resource for the training course.
After widespread consultation and discussion, the format and content of the toolkit were agreed, and the toolkit was designed, produced and will be launched on Key equality areas identified through surveys, piloting, promotional and awareness activities, steering group and committee discussions as most important
to be covered in the toolkit were:
Key issues for representation and involvement of:
UMF, BERR and TUC public events and fringe meetings were supported with experience from this project throughout its duration
A 3 day PCS training course was designed to supplement the training available for equality reps through the TUC. It was felt that this course was necessary, as the TUC course only provided a base line introduction to the role. BEOs had through surveys and conferences requested a more in depth course that involved a greater emphasis on Equality Impact Assessments and Equality legislation.
It ran as an initial pilot in Preston on 17th to 19th February 2010 and in London on 28th to 30th June 2010, to ascertain if it was meeting the needs of the Branch Equality Officers.
The course format was structured into 3 days and broken down into key parts:
The evaluations suggested that the course was sufficient and plans are being put in place to follow the pilot course with a “training for trainers” course, to extend the number of capable lay tutors who can offer the course in their respective regions.
Equality Impact Assessment Training- This was a key priority as BEOs needed to be up-skilled in this area. The training was put together by the two project officers, who then delivered it. It was delivered not only to BEOs but to Branch Executive Committees, Group Executive Committees, Full Time Officials and lay reps.
A three day OCR accredited mentoring course, in conjunction with TUC Wirral Met, was piloted. This course attracted 12 attendees, who came from a wide range of activists, not just BEOs. The activists found this course very useful and stressed the need for mentoring in the wider union context.
This has taken place for the last two years, at the Mechanics Institute, Manchester. The seminar was limited to 50 Equality Reps at each event (due to financial constraints).The information and thoughts that have been generated at the seminars have been incorporated into the project priorities as part of the ongoing consultative process.
PCS holds a wealth of information in its membership system (Commix).Equality). PCS makes the process of managing and amending membership records easier as each individual member and key branch and group officials can assess a range of data about themselves and their branches via the internet.
It is an essential resource for Branch Equality Officers in relation to Equality Mapping their workplaces.
A Mentoring Strategy has been written and submitted to PCS for consideration.
PCS needs to support and mentor new activists, especially under represented members. (This commitment is stated in the Organising Strategy for 2010).
PCS aims to increase its membership density to 80%, this is achievable but in order to recruit new reps the right support mechanisms need to be in place, i.e. New Starter Packs for Branch Equality Representatives, Young Members, Black Members, Disabled members and Women. The packs need to contain organisational charts, Departmental Policy and Procedures for Grievances and Disciplinarians.
PCS cannot afford to miss any opportunity to unite members and workers and to improve its membership density and activity at all levels. PCS aims to be a union that campaigns, bargains and organises around issues that members care about and builds activist bases that are reflective of its membership both now and in the future. This can be achieved through introducing a mentoring strategy throughout the union that fosters support and develops all its representatives to their full potential.
Union members are often put off volunteering themselves to become union representatives because they feel out of their depth and feel they won’t get the kind of support they need. By providing a mentoring system within trade unions, potential or new reps may feel more confident in taking on the role. The mentor could be an existing union rep to help each other achieve their potential by sharing experience and listening and guiding. The relationship should be based on trust, confidentiality and equality.
The role has been widely adopted within the Branch Structure throughout the catchment area.
In DWP the role is very evidently embedded throughout its entire structure. Other groups have embedded the role for varying degrees.
The commercial sector again has in the main adopted the role, but to different levels dependent upon the department that they are attached to and the size of their branch.
In the absence of statutory rights, it is clear that a one size fits all approach for employers is unlikely to work and so the approach that has been adopted is one of contacting all groups within the catchment area for them to address through established negotiation mechanisms.
Having no statutory rights has been a widespread concern for equality reps when undertaking their duties.
Identified areas have been highlighted in the BEO handbook examples are as follows:
In order to achieve this aim PCS has pledged to work to ensure that the promotion of equality is a priority issue for PCS in bargaining, campaigning and organising and in the delivery of services to members.
As part of this pledge PCS in conjunction with the Union Modernisation Fund has piloted an Equality Officer Project in DWP National and in the North West Region of PCS branches. The aim is to have an Equality Officer in every Branch, promoting and engaging in Equality work that will bring real benefits to our members. We are committed to workplaces, in which unconditional dignity and respect is shown to all workers, at all times. The Equality Officer is a key role within Branch: they will advise and assist members, as well as advising/supporting Branch Reps on Equality matters and supporting relevant negotiations.
However, these words have to be turned into positive actions and by introducing a mentoring process; that will overcome barriers to progress and offer support to disadvantaged groups of workers, will enable PCS to achieve its principle aim.
During the project, we identified union equality reps as the ‘missing link’ in the development and promotion of equality in the workplace. What’s more, the project had shown how important union equality reps are in the workplace, while supporting their development and effectiveness, raising their profile and disseminating experiences across the trade union movement and interested organisations and journals.
From this experience, we have reached three clear conclusions – that union equality reps are a breakthrough for equality in the work place; that trade union education and training using the toolkit are vital to ensuring the effectiveness of union equality reps; and that the lack of facility time and statutory rights is clearly a barrier to further development of this important role in many areas at this time.”
The union met all its stated aims and objectives and concluded that, because of this project, the role union of equality reps has been considerably strengthened through: