Speech: Women’s Cancers and Work

Janine’s proposing speech at RMT Women’s Conference 2017 …

This motion on women’s cancers and work speaks for itself.

Look at those shocking figures. 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some stage of their life. That is 1 in 8 RMT women, 1500 of the current female RMT membership. And that’s just breast cancer: there is also ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, uterine cancer, vulval cancer. This is not an issue we can ignore anymore.

But this is not about feeling sorry for or just being kind to women with cancer. It is about a collective trade union response.

There are workplace factors which contribute to increasing cancer risk. You will read many clickbait headlines, such as ‘burnt toast causes cancer’. A lot of this stuff is rubbish. However, there are credible studies that show that night shifts raise the risk of breast cancer. We need to raise this issue in collective bargaining with employers.

We also need to address women’s loss of income due to cancer. I consider myself quite lucky, working in a company that, due to the union’s fight over many many decades, has 100% sick pay. But that is not true of all our members. Members working for some companies have to live on Statutory Sick Pay, or no income at all, when they take time off from work for treatment. Macmillan estimates that 4 out of 5 people who have cancer lose more than £570 a month in income. As if cancer was not bad enough on its own, without losing money as well!

You will see a lot of things around about women’s cancer, where we have to dress up in pink and post hearts on our Facebook status updates, but this motion is not about that. This is about placing demands on employers and fighting for them – demands that they identify and deal with risk factors in workplaces, that they do not financially penalise women who develop cancer, and so on.

The final thing I want to say is that to really fight cancer, we must defend the NHS from Tory austerity attacks. If possible, I’d like us to send a message of support from this conference to the massive march that is taking place in London this afternoon to defend our NHS.

Please support this motion.

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