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Disabled workers set priorities for year ahead

Disabled workers set priorities for year ahead

Person wearing a hearing aid

Leona Atkins, a senior software developer at the Met Office, reports back from the TUC disabled workers’ conference which was held in Bournemouth in May


Conference delegates heard passionate speakers, interesting debates and how the Trades Union Congress is lobbying hard for the rights of disabled working people – but there is still much to do.

We discussed 22 motions, passed 20 of them and remitted two. We also agreed that a motion on establishing a National Independent Living Support Service would be put forward to the Trades Union Congress in September.

Prospect’s motion set out what employers and unions can to do create a more positive, open and disability-friendly workplace culture, including:

  • encouraging unions to press employers to adopt policies that support equality for disabled people at work
  • organising an awareness-raising campaign that challenges stereotypes, highlights the rights of disabled people at work and the support offered by unions
  • encouraging affiliates to involve disabled members in union structures and encouraging those members to become active as workplace reps.

Getting to Bournemouth

I arrived in Bournemouth after three hours, three trains – and a rant on Twitter to the train company about its policy on acceptable and accessible routes.

It took me a while to find the right bus stand but a very helpful driver got me on the right bus. I mention the bus because some of them in Bournemouth have audio announcements – I assume there is a text display as well, but couldn’t see that.

This is fantastic for someone like myself who can’t see and doesn’t know the area. Exeter, in fact Devon, doesn’t have this and I think it should be mandatory for all public transport.

I had an evening meal in a lovely Thai Restaurant nearby. Unfortunately it did not have a large print menu – I get this almost every time, even though it is the law to have one!

The hotel staff were extremely helpful at breakfast the next morning and ensured I had everything I needed. I find buffet-style services very confusing as I can’t read the small labels and can’t tell what the items are.

I then got my things together for conference. In the past I’ve taken laptops, but they just don’t have enough battery to last the day, there are no sockets to charge them and I struggle to use laptops for long periods.

So I came up with another solution, using a tablet, a bluetooth keyboard and a clamp. I put the tablet in the clamp, clamped it to the desk and adjusted it to my eye level so I could type away on the keyboard. Hey presto! I came up with my own reasonable adjustment!

Day one

Sian Stockham, a support care worker from Abergavenny and a Unison member, opened the conference.

Sean McGovern, co-chair of the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, outlined the cuts to disabled people’s services and pointed out that the motion passed at last year’s conference about scrapping universal credit is now TUC policy.

He also outlined key facts and explained why adopting the social model of disability will help remove barriers for disabled people:

  • on average, disabled people earn £3,000 less than their able-bodied colleagues
  • one in 10 people are forced out of work due to their disability.

We covered three motions in the morning session and eight in the afternoon.

I wanted to speak about access to professional development for disabled workers, but I didn’t get the opportunity this time.

I wanted to say how difficult it was to get qualifications as some providers are not accessible or make it very difficult. I had to wait five years for an exam board to allow assistive technology.

Barrie Worth moved Prospect’s motion on changing workplace culture and seconded a motion on the disability pay gap.

A few of us met up for a meal out. This was a good opportunity to talk to more experienced members about their experiences in the union and a chance to pick up helpful ideas and tips.

Day two

Paul Novak, TUC deputy general secretary, opened day two of the conference. He explained how the TUC, which represents 48 unions, has been making progress in highlighting the crisis in mental health and campaigning against the cuts to these services.

He also pointed out that Govia Thameslink had changed its policy on supporting disabled passengers on their trains as a result of a motion last year.

Paul set out examples of rights won by our unions – like paid holidays and sick pay – and how they are now under threat.

He said the TUC’s three priorities were to:

  • secure a Brexit deal that works for working people
  • win a new deal for working families: higher pay, investment in public services, the right to a democratic voice at work and mandatory disability pay reporting
  • stand up against hate crimes and unite members and unions against the far-right.

We then debated four more motions and listened to an informal panel session on independent living chaired by Sean McGovern.

Sean talked about his background in this area, both as a service user and as an advisor.

Mark Harrison, talked about the campaign group, Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, which brings together disabled people and their organisations in England.

Frank Sioen from the European Network on Independent Living said it should be a human right, supported by all parties and fully funded.

Ellen Clifford, from Disabled People Against Cuts, said 22% of the British population was disabled. Independent living had previously been restricted to those with physical disabilities, but is now being extended to include mental and ‘hidden’ disabilities.

Delegates voted for motions on:

  • developing a social model understanding of mental health
  • review of disability assessments
  • impact of austerity cuts on disabled people
  • death of Colette McCulloch
  • introduction of a national independence support service
  • the DWP PR campaign around universal credit
  • make disability pay reporting mandatory
  • the disability pay gap
  • access to professional development for disabled workers
  • #includeus: the campaign for disability equality in education and workplaces
  • campaign to enforce the 2010 Equality Act and publicise the damaging effects of poorly-designed school/college buildings on disabled adults and children
  • inclusive education
  • making reasonable adjustments helps everyone
  • prison staff and reasonable adjustments
  • mental health crisis
  • Trade Union Act
  • how the rail industry should promote independent travel
  • supporting disabled people in self-employment
  • the menopause and the Equality Act.

Two motions on the social model of disability and the inclusion of gig economy trade unions were remitted.

Marie McGrath

Marie McGrath


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