TUC Women’s Conference 2018

REVELATIONS of pandemic sexual harassment and yawning gender pay gaps this year brought an especially solemn significance to the TUC Women's conference. While celebrating 100 years since some women gained the vote, and 150 years of the TUC, the annual conference was a compelling reminder that equal treatment at work, at home, and within unions is an ongoing campaign.

Magda Ibrahim at WTUC

Magda Ibrahim speaks

"These are hard times, but they are exciting times," said Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary: "We have to stand up for issues that matter most for women workers."

The NUJ delegation proposed motions on the gender pay gap and on equal maternity pay for self-employed people at the conference, held at the TUC's headquarters, Congress House in London, on 7-9 March.

BBC worker Cath Saunt called for current rules requiring companies with 250 or more employees to publish their gender pay gaps to be extended to those with 50 or more employees. "It's a hundred years since women first got the right to vote and yet we are still fighting for pay parity," she said.

"The BBC's record, bravely highlighted by former China bureau chief, Carrie Gracie, is a gender pay gap of 9.3 per cent." Dawn Butler, shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, added her support at the conference, committing to "holding the government to account" on addressing the gender pay gap.

Meanwhile, London Freelance Branch co-equality officer Magda Ibrahim called for a lobby to address discrepancies in maternity pay between self-employed and employed women.

The difference in statutory maternity pay, for employed workers, and maternity allowance - which is a set rate for the self-employed - can mean at least a third less money when calculated based on minimum wage rates.

"Maternity pay has long been a bone of contention in the UK - let's take this opportunity to lobby to close the gap in maternity pay for employed and self-employed workers and support women in whatever type of work they are doing," urged Ms Ibrahim.

group shot

The NUJ delegation: left to right, Cath Saunt, Magda Ibrahim, Annie Galpin and Anita Halpin

Fellow delegate and NUJ Disabled Members' Council chair Ann Galpin called for solidarity with hunger strikers at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedford.

The conference was a chance for more than 260 delegates from 35 unions - as well as representatives from trades councils - to debate issues including flexible working, Brexit, the menopause at work, discrimination against older workers, and how to organise women in the gig economy within the union movement.

Of the 44 motions discussed during the event, one was selected by ballot to be presented to TUC Congress, which takes place in Manchester on 9-12 September. The chosen topic is sexual harassment. TUC will debate a composite of two motions from WTUC, covering the need for joint union resourcing to develop research and policy, a campaign and an education programme. It highlights that "staff on precarious contracts can be particularly vulnerable because of dependence upon white male structures for promotion or work".

Mary Bousted, TUC vice president, added: "More than 50 per cent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. "If sexual violence and harassment is rife at work, I would also say the trade union movement is not immune from it. We must not be ashamed to say it has happened to me."