Report: TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee meeting, 27 November 2014

  • Shadow Report to the United Nations: still being prepared, as there is a lot of material to fit into a limited space.
  • Challenging myths and prejudice around disability and benefit claimants: Our proposal (from our last meeting) to have a leaflet for workplaces and a model article for union journals is being addressed through the new TUC campaign, ‘Save Our Safety Net’. This campaign includes a magazine for distribution in workplaces which is pretty cheap to buy (£2 for 50 copies; £3 for 100)
    Mental health in the workplace: There will be a TUC-hosted seminar on this issue, probably on 5 February 2015.
  • Work Choice programme: Government Minister Mark Harper MP has replied to TUC letter, stating that he intends to extend Work Choice after current contracts expire in October 2015.
  • Monitoring disabled performers: The TUC has received a positive response from the BBC.
  • Sickness absence case law: The result of PCS’s appeal against the dreadful verdict in Griffiths vs DWP is expected in mid-February.
The Conference will take place on 21 and 22 May, shortly after the General Election. We made initial plans, as follows:

  • The theme will be the need for renewed activism for disabled rights under a new government.
  • Due to the timing, we anticipate more emergency resolutions than usual.
  • We decided which Committee members would be chairing conference (including my good self!)
  • Invited speakers will include TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, a speaker on War and Disablement, and others.
  • There will be an informal session, focusing on promoting the social model of disability.
  • Looking at feedback from last year’s conference, we will be trying to take some steps to improve accessibility eg. providing a ‘chill-out room’; stopping background talking.
  • We want to see more exhibition stalls. 
  • We would also like to see more fringe meetings, and encourage unions and campaigns to organise them.
  • We are considering the feasibility of a social event in the evening, and plan for this to be an open event to showcase disabled performers and disability campaigns.
Having been told what, as a TUC body, we can not do (because of the TUC not having a political fund), we agreed on some things that we can – and will – do:
  • produce a leaflet highlighting our demands for disability rights
  • promote General Election campaigning work by eg. Inclusion London, Operation Disabled Vote, Disabled People Against Cuts
  • address access issues for disabled people voting
  • produce a model set of questions for campaigners to send to local candidates
  • analyse the parties’ manifesto in relation to TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee’s key policies/demands
The TUC is planning a week of campaign activities, 15-21 December, opposing casualisation, zero-hours contracts, exploitation of agency workers and short-term workers, and other forms of insecure work. The Disabled Workers’ Committee was asked to input ideas and issues – these included:
  • the impact of casualised working on disabled clients – eg. social care provided by agencies, short-term workers who often change
  • under-employment eg. only 15% of autistic adults are in full-time employment
  • TUC research shows that 40% of workers who consider themselves disabled fear that they could lose their job at any point.
Trade unionists are asked to support street stalls and other events. However, it was felt that it was impractical, due to short notice, to run a disability-specific campaign event during the week.
The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) has an anti-casualisation committee – perhaps other unions could consider doing this.
‘Access to Work’ is funding to assist disabled people at work, and was promised extra resources when Remploy factories closed. The number of people helped by AtW has risen this year for the first time in five years. Campaigning also led to a relaxation in government rules which made it harder for hearing-impaired people to get support through AtW. Centralising AtW  to a small number of call centres rather than 72 local offices has caused huge administration problems. A report has recommended doubling AtW funding, but the government has made no commitment on this.
The TUC has published its annual equality audit, showing trends in unions’ success (or otherwise!) in involving the diversity of their membership. It is a thorough and interesting survey – although we should bear in mind that it is based on what union head offices tell the TUC about themselves. Every union would find it useful to study the audit, and look at the measures that other unions have taken to improve the way that they address equalities.
We looked at the statistics for equality monitoring at the this year’s TUC Congress.  14.6% of delegates responding were disabled – although this appears to be positive, we should bear in mind that it is probably partly the result of the age profile of Congress being quite high. Most concerning is that there were no delegates at all aged under 26 and only 5.5% of delegates were 35 or under.
I raised the need to improve the disability section of the TUC website. It seems that in doing so, I volunteered myself to draft some proposals!

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