From the TUC

Carl supports workers with health struggles – #heartunions

10 Feb 2017, By

8th – 14th February 2017 is #heartunions week, celebrating the great work unions do, and paying tribute to the reps who are an important part of that. The Unsung Heroes series is running all week, sharing stories from reps and members about how being part of their union has impacted their lives.

40-year-old Carl Lewthwaithe was elected to his role as a full time Disability Equality Advisor by all 3 unions recognised at Sellafield – GMB, Prospect and UNITE.  Sellafield has 13,500 staff on site. Carl currently has 200 active cases at his workplace. He has won numerous awards over the years for his work as a Disability Equality Advisor.

Carl’s journey to where he is now shows his persistence.

When he was 16, Carl followed the footsteps of his dad and grandad and joined the army. He was a machine gunner and sustained a back injury. When he came out of the army, he got a job at Sellafield. Whilst working there, his back problems got dramatically worse and he was diagnosed with a severe prolapse of his back disc.

Carl had surgery on his back and returned back to work after 6 weeks. When he returned to work, the pain continued until the pain became so severe that he locked himself in a cupboard and cried until a colleague found him. A biopsy result showed that Carl had an infection in his disc and required a full disc replacement.

Carl was off work for 18 months due to his condition. After his operation, he was advised he might be in a wheelchair, but due to his determination he returned to work after 18months with the support of a back brace and walking frame.

When Carl returned to work his manager said “you are no good to me like this”. Carl was also told he could no longer be a shift worker as he was disabled, which would have meant a reduction in pay of £12,000. The employer’s idea of reasonable adjustment was to have Carl sit in the canteen and amend documents, which he refused to do.

Carl convinced his employer to allow him attend training as a TUC Disability Champion in the workplace. Carl argued:

“They could make better use of my skills by allowing me to train as a Disability Champion, which can help the company avoid going to the employment tribunal on the grounds of discrimination.”

Since Carl became a Disability Advisor, the company hasn’t been to the tribunal on the grounds of disability discrimination for 6 years.

Now Carl’s days are spent supporting workers with physical and mental health struggles.

Carl’s normal day consists of meeting with people in work, staff home visits, accompanying members to see the site doctor, reviewing and rewriting equality and diversity policies. He also ensures Sellafield are meeting the requirements of the DWP Two Ticks accreditation, which includes commitment to recruitment and retention of disabled workers.

One of the initiatives Carl has been helping to develop is the cancer support group. He was able to help secure funding from the employer. Carl is also involved in working with the employer and UNITE to deliver mental health first aid training for the employees.

Carl believes it is “absolutely very important” to be a member of a union.

“Being in a union, you will have the right level of support in place for reps and branches.

“The role of union reps in the workplace is important as we negotiate terms and conditions and pay as well as ensuring the right level of collective bargaining rights. Every employee has access to good level of representation.”

The big aim for #heartunions week is to encourage more people to join a union. Please share this page with friends, colleagues and neighbours. If we each get one person to join a union this week, we’ll be well on the way to getting a better deal for working people all year round.

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