21 Jun 2008

National Delegates Conference - Disabled Members Officer

What I said about rule amendment 5 - Disabled Members Officer :

"Louise Ashworth National LGBT Delegate and a disabled member opposing this rule amendment.

The LGBT group have not taken the decision to oppose another self-organised group lightly.
But this rule amendment is not about disabled members self-organisation – it is about branch organisation, about equalities in general and about member representation. This rule amendment has an impact on members of all of the self-organised groups and could create a precedent of how we may be represented in the future.

A motion at Disabled Members Conference proposed a Disability Officer to work specifically on behalf of disabled members because disabled people encounter particular disadvantage in the workforce.

We are not denying that disabled members do face particular disadvantage but so do our Black members, our women members and our lgbt members. Will this just be the start of a barrage of rule amendments being submitted in the future?

Various reasons have been mooted why the post is required - employers not taking the DED seriously and more recently we were told that it is intended to be a caseworker taking on cases such as health and safety, sickness absence and capability hearings.

This rule amendment introduces a quagmire of equality and member representation at branch level and should be opposed. The amendment undermines the role of the equality officer, self organisation and workplace representatives. It introduces a hierarchy of equality epresentation and discrimination at branch level that we as a union have strived to overcome.

The rule book, code of good branch practice and guidance on self organisation already provide opportunity for branches to elect a disabled members officer and for members of self organised groups to be represented on the branch committee. But only 60% of branches have equalities officers whereas a fifth of all branches already have Disabled Members Officers in place.
This rule change proposes a Disabled Members Officer who may not be disabled and will not be elected by disabled members and may not have any connections with the branch disabled members self organised group.

The union has secured funding from the union modernisation fund for the workplace equality representatives project. This rule amendment confuses the aims of the project and should be opposed.

The key representatives for members in workplace issues are stewards – and equality is a workplace issue.

If a steward needs specialist advice on my disability, they can talk to me. If they need specialist advice on disability equality then can turn to the structures UNISON already has in place. It is every activist’s duty to take equality seriously. We should be all for one. Not one for all who are disabled or lgbt for that matter. Please oppose."

The result was For 538,903. Against 559,604. Amendment Lost. Majority Against 21,511.

For the truth behind the right of reply, read here.

A briefing paper has been produced to the reasons why the LGBT Group were opposed. I have read a few comments on blogs that the reasons we were opposed was the method in which the rule change had been approached i.e., without consultation. With or without consultation, the poposal is ill thought out and it is likely that our position would have remained the same. the arguments supporting the position were weak. It was suggested that it would help disabled people achieve in public life if they were elected into such positions. However, the very fact that the position does not have to be a disabled member means that is not necessarily the case. The mover stated that 881 branches already have Disabled Members Officers thereby proving that there is already provision for the position to exist. The argument that a DMO would deal with health and safety cases undermines workplaces and health and safety representatives and also detracts from the specialist area of disability equality. There is also an underlying current of medicalisation of disability and a movement away from self organisation to facilitation of disabled members. I even heard a comment that allowing should means that it would be easier for disabled people who have not disclosed their disability to take up the position. However, how could you then distinguish or share preference between the disable person who has not disclosed their disability and the non-disabled erson who run in a contested election? Nonsense.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I have to agree entirely that this was and is a very unfortunate situation. I am open mouthed as to how the principle of self organisation has been breached with this amendment. Further I was quite horrified about the backward steps that are raised in the justification of this i.e. the medical model of disability. Islington is organising a meeting next week of its disabled members and a number of us have already discussed putting in a motion about this to the national conference.

I as a branch officer whilst I do have a disability it is irrelevant to the post I hold, I am willing and able to take on issues of discrimination whether it be disability, women, LGBT and black members, indeed members seem to have confidence in me doing so. This is not the same as the role of a representative of self organised groups. It would be useful to have a copy of your briefing to assist in drafting a motion to NDM conference. Well done for standing up as saying what had to be said.