An introduction to Equalities

Trade unions believe passionately in equality of opportunity and the struggle against bigotry and discrimination in the workplace and wider society. In fact, the trade union movement has been central to the struggle for equality throughout the world, from the fight for universal suffrage in the early 20th century, through to the Coors beer strikes against homophobic employment policies in San Francisco in the 1970s and the fight against Apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s.

In this tradition, UNISON takes the issue of equalities very seriously, and we have several branch officers who exercise responsibility for work within specific equalities strands. We have been closely involved int he setting up of the NWAS LGBT Staff Network, and are the only union to have staff side representatives on the NWAS Equality and Diversity Sub-Committee, which handles issues such as equality impact assessments and anti-discriminatory practice.

On a regional and national level, UNISON organises for equality within semi-autonomous campaigns called ‘Self Organised Groups’ or SOGs. There are 4 SOG campaigns – LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), Black Members, Disabled Members and Womens’. Each of these organises at regional level and elects officers to a national committee.

UNISON’s SOGs do a tremendous amount of work locally, nationally and internationally with our sister trade unions to drive forward the equality agenda. This work takes many forms: lobbying parliament, grass-roots campaigning at local and national level, commissioning and undertaking research, and representing members at national level to employers. We believe that by organising together we can make our voices heard, and this applies just as much if not more in the area of equality and diversity as it does in bargaining for pay and conditions.

Getting Involved

Any member who self defines as a constituent of one of the SOG groups can attend, speak and vote at regional meetings and take part in regional and national campaigns, so if you’re interested in getting involved, let us know. In addition, any member can stand for election at a branch or regional level to be a delegate or visitor to their SOG’s annual conference, where national policy is passed, and the direction of national campaigning efforts and resources is determined. If you feel there is a specific issue which affects us as ambulance staff related to an equalities strand, you could even submit a motion to one of these conferences and have your idea built into a national campaign.

Any member wishing to get involved in union work will be eligible to claim reasonable expenses to meet the cost of travel and subsistence whilst undertaking union work, so as to ensure you can participate without being out of pocket. You may also be entitled to reasonable unpaid time off if you so wish, but this is not normally necessary.

You do not have to be a steward or health and safety representative to get involved in an SOG campaign and you can give as much or as little time as you wish.