Report: TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee meeting, 16 September 2014

The TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee elected two co-Chairs for 2014/15: Sean McGovern and Janine Booth.

Disabled Workers’ Conference 2014 – Resolutions

We looked at all the resolutions passed by Disabled Workers’ Conference in May. A document containing these resolutions will (eventually) be posted on the TUC website – until then, email me [email protected] if you would like me to send it to you.

Here’s a summary of what we are doing on each:

1. Zero hours contracts and disabled workers

The contents of the resolution will be incorporated into  the TUC’s priority campaign on this issue

2. Resisting the attacks on disabled people

The TUC Briefing on Disabled People Fighting Austerity, which has been updated three times, is available here:  this needs to be circulated and used more widely by unions, branches and activists.

The TUC and unions have met with Labour shadow ministers to push disabled workers’ demands – there will be a public meeting with Disabled People Against Cuts and Labour shadow minister Kate Green on 30 October which will provide an opportunity to pressure Labour to make concrete commitments.

I argued for a more direct, campaigning approach to pressuring Labour – the Committee will support protests.

Unfortunately, trade union members are as likely as other people to accept right-wing propaganda against disabled people and other benefit claimants – the Committee agreed to commission a model article for union journals, and a leaflet for distribution in workplaces, to tackle this propaganda.

3. Defending the Independent Living Fund (ILF)

A new TUC briefing runs through the background, the arguments, the campaign so far and the campaign to come. Download it here

Gabriel Pepper, who spoke at the Conference, explains the importance of defending the ILF here.

The next court hearing will be on 22 October, and campaigners will hold a protest outside. Details to follow.

4. Single assessment for disability benefits, services and schemes

This will be an issue for trade union lobbying of the Labour Party.

We are campaigning for an increase in, and wider publicity for, the Access To Work (ATW) Fund. Deaf ATW users have had some success in defending their access to the Fund.

5&6. Mental health

Guidance from the TUC can be downloaded here. This was published in 2008, but is still relevant other than the absence of reference to the Equality Act.

There is a TUC training course on mental health. Unions are encouraged to use this course.

We will be organising a seminar on good practice on mental health in the workplace.

I emphasised that mental health difficulties should not be seen just as an external problem that people bring to work with them – but also, that the role on workplaces and employers in causing mental health problems must be recognised and tackled.

7. Disability-related workplace bullying and harassment in schools

The Committee is waiting for information from education unions on this subject.

8. Mapping disabled people in the workplace

This policy emphasises the importance of the ‘social model of disability’. The Committee will review and update the TUC’s existing guidance on this.

9. Work Choice programme

The TUC will write to the government and the Labour Party urging that this programme be continued.

10. Sickness absence management and disability

TUC advice on this can be downloaded here.

There is now an important legal battle on this issue – see separate section below.

11. Disability discrimination appraisal and performance systems

Advice on this is contained within the TUC’s Disability and Work guidance.

12. Transport cuts

The resolution will be taken up through Action for Rail, the TUC and transport unions’ joint campaign. It was suggested that imminent campaigning actions would include:

  • TfL’s transport accessibility event on 2 October
  • possible strike action around 14 October

13. Disabled students

The impact of government schools policy on disabled students is addressed as part of this report.

All unions are asked to supply information about issues facing disabled pupils – as well as education unions, other unions may ask their members who are parents of disabled kids to input into this.

The government’s plan to scrap the Disabled Students’ Allowance and transfer its responsibilities to institutions has been postponed due to protests against it – if we now step up the campaign, we can insist that the plan is scrapped altogether. As the postponement pushes the implementation beyond next year’s General Election, this is another issue on which we demand a commitment from the Labour Party.

14. Global campaign for education

More information here.

15. Equality monitoring of performers

We will be working with actors’ union Equity on this campaign.

16. Accessibility for live entertainment venues

We will be working with the charity Attitude Is Everything on this campaign.

17. Ethical journalism

This is covered by TUC policy regarding the Leveson enquiry. The resolution did not call for any specific action.

18. Adverse impact of digitalisation

Whilst digitalisation can help some disabled to communicate, participate, access services and live more independently, this resolution recognises that some digitalisation can in practice exclude some disabled people. A pressing example for transport union is the closing of ticket offices with passengers expected to use machines, when some disabled people may not be able to.

Another issue across several industries in the introduction of contactless payment methods, which employers use as a pretext for de-staffing, and which may cause difficulties for some disabled people when using services. I asked that the TUC compile information on the impact of contactless payment on disabled people.

Disabled Workers’ Conference 2014 – Participation

We looked at the statistics for delegates who attended this year’s conference – 207 delegates from 25 unions. More delegates returned their monitoring forms this year (perhaps because we offered prizes!). The gender balance of the conference has improved: this year’s delegates were 52% men and 48%, compared with 58%: 42% the previous year. However, the conference remains overwhelmingly white.

TUC General Council report

Sean McGovern represents disabled workers on the TUC General Council. He reported on the June meeting, which had included discussions on: lobbying Labour, especially regarding zero-hours contracts and abolishing Employment Tribunal fees; Tory plans for new anti-union laws; strike action by firefighters and cinema workers; joint public sector strike days; and the defeat of plans to privatise child protection services. Sean had reported to the General Council on key campaigning issues for the Disabled Workers’ Committee, especially the fight to defend the ILF.

Hate Crime

A seminar about hate crime took place on 3 July 2014, involving all equality groups. There is now an email group for trade unionists campaigning on this issue.

The Crown Prosecution Service will have a focus on disability hate crime over the next two years, but given its woeful failing in the case of Steven Simpson, we will need to exert campaigning pressure to ensure that this brings about any positive change.

Sickness absence case law

In Griffiths v DWP, the Employment Appeal tribunal has made an appalling decision, rejecting an employee’s complaint that her employer should have relaxed the ‘consideration point’ of its sickness absence policy in her case because of her disability. Civil service union PCS is appealing this judgment to the Court of Appeal, and may need assistance form other unions with costs.

The TUC will produce an update briefing in light of the outcome of this case. I requested that this briefing emphasise why the legal system is stacked against workers, and also promotes other avenues for achieving justice for workers, including campaigning and industrial action.

Spreading the word

I proposed that the Committee do more to get out and active, and spread the word about what we do and the important campaigns that we fight. Some measures to help achieve this include:

  • a list of Committee members willing to speak to trade union and other meetings, and the subjects they can speak about – to invite a speaker to your meeting, contact Peter Purton [email protected]
  • a new Facebook group, Trade Union Disability Solidarity  – this is administered by co-Chairs Sean and Janine, but is not an official TUC group
  • Committee members will suggest tweets to be send out on the TUC Equality account @TUCEquality
  • Committee members will write blog posts for inclusion on the TUC website

At the next meeting of the Committee, we will begin discussions on arrangements for next year’s Disabled Workers’ Conference – including, at my suggestion, an evening social with performers!

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