From the TUC

A bargaining win for disabled workers is what unions continue to fight for

07 Dec 2016, By

To mark Disability History Month I thought this would be a good time to share the great progress unions have made on disability issues over the last year.

Community have negotiated an adult apprenticeship agreement and play an important role in supporting disabled people at Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft Industries (RSBi) to ensure disabled people have equal access to opportunities in the workplace.

RSBi is an arm’s length company of Glasgow City Council and is the manufacturing division of City Building. RSBi employ 300 people and over fifty per cent of the workforce have a disability.

City Building train at least seventy new apprentices each year. Community, the union identified barriers for pupils with learning disabilities.  They realised that pupils were good at learning practical skills but struggled with numeracy and literacy tests. With the support of the RSB’s Learning Centre Community have been able to work with the pupils to achieve their numeracy and literacy through a quality accredited vocational programme.

Steven McGurk, Community branch secretary at RSBi said “We are proactive and not reactive. Working with the employer we work together to provide reasonable adjustments from the outset we don’t wait for a situation to arise.”

As Community’s story above demonstrates unions have negotiated agreements to support disabled people at work. The TUC’s 2016 Equality Audit provides some excellent examples of the successes unions continue to achieve in the workplace.

The report looks at the equality issues where unions have achieved bargaining gains. It also reviews the large number of issues unions continue to tackle to try and improve equality for all workers. The audit includes some good examples of guidance for negotiators and bargaining successes.

Key findings from the audit on disability issues are:

  • Disability related sickness absence is by far the number one equality issue (65 per cent) union reps are spending their time dealing with at work
  • 37 per cent of unions reported negotiating successes for disabled workers
  • Over half of unions have guidance and briefings available on disability issues

Barriers faced when bargaining for equality

We weren’t surprised when unions reported that it had become more difficult to get employers to deal with equality issues in the workplace in recent years.  Over half of unions stated it had become much harder to do so. One in three unions felt that equality policies or their implementation had been watered down. For example UCU had “undertook two surveys of disabled members in the workplace that demonstrated the difficulties for example, in getting reasonable adjustments.”

The most common reasons were financial cuts in the public sector, insecure jobs, introduction of employment tribunal fees and a reduction in facility time. Making it tougher to negotiate equality gains.

Guidance available on driving equality in the workplace

Unions have produced a wide range of guidance on disability issues. As the chart shows below over half of all unions have produced guidance for negotiators when bargaining for disabled workers.


CWU has produced factsheets on the topics of dyslexia, disability rights and the Equality Act, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes and autism. Prospect have materials on neurodiversity and discrimination and guidance on disability, appraisal and performance. PFA has a mental health brochure for footballers.

It is important to note that union reps surveyed said disability was   one equality area where they lack sufficient guidance

The no.1 issue at work: disability and sickness absence

Issues related to disability have been by far on top of union rep’s list. We wanted to find out what issues reps are tackling on equality, what support they receive and training. TUC’s Equality Officer Huma blogged on over half of all reps had dealt with disability issues.  In addition sickness absence and disability was the most reported issue reps had tackled.

“The largest number of cases I have dealt with have been around disability in the workplace, whether that be a physical or mental disability. The problem in most cases appears to be middle management who do not understand, or want to understand, the legislation particularly around reasonable adjustments.” Anonymous testimony submitted to TUC, May 2016

What next?

Unions continue to produce a wide range of guidance on disability issues. In the past four years we continue to negotiate for improvements.  We support members to ensure disabled workers are treated fairly at work. The current climate makes it very tough for union reps to provide the best support they can.  But this hasn’t stopped unions from breaking down the barriers disabled people face.

The report clearly shows that unions are still making a difference in the workplace. Union reps continue to deal with issues related to disability, mental health, harassment, bullying and discrimination. We need to continue to ensure disability is part of every union’s bargaining agenda. We have more challenging years ahead of us but we shouldn’t let that stop us from continuing to bargain, campaign and support affiliates, to use the report as a tool when bargaining and campaigning on disability.

One Response to A bargaining win for disabled workers is what unions continue to fight for

  1. John
    Dec 8th 2016, 1:36 am

    Thankyou for this article Natasha Owusu.

    Following the quotation comment by ‘Annonymus testimony submitted to the TUC’ in May 2016, I could not help but wonder what negative effects the Brexit Tories will try to impose on lowering manufacturing / service costs by regressing on any protection disabled & able bodied people have at work?

    For sure you & the TUC know the possible ramifications of what could happen without any structured opposition & strong communication via the media.

    The best of luck to you all with ALL this work that you are going to have & I mean that.