CWU Equality Month: Deafness at work and in the Union

Union Matters

In this first week of Equality Month, we’re publishing a series of articles focussing on the fight for fairness for people with disabilities, written by CWU activists with disabilities.

Today, in the second of these, Lee Starr-Elliot from Bristol & District Amal Branch writes about deafness at work and in the union…

It is estimated that there are approximately 11 million people in this country with a hearing loss, which makes it the second-most common disability in the UK. However, as an invisible disability, it so often goes unnoticed, making it easier for those living with hearing loss to be ignored or forgotten.

At least 4.4 million people with hearing loss are of working age. The employment rate for those with hearing loss is 65 per cent, compared to 79 per cent of people with no long-term health issue or disability. And, on average, people with hearing loss are paid £2,000 less per year than the general population – which amounts to a total of £4 billion per year in lost income across the UK.

Recent estimates suggest that the UK economy loses £25bn annually in lost productivity and unemployment due to hearing loss. Research in 2014 on the experience of people with hearing loss and employment found that:

  • Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of respondents felt that their employment opportunities were limited because of their hearing loss.
  • Nearly as many people, 70 per cent, agreed that their hearing loss sometimes prevented them from fulfilling their potential at work.
  • Just over two-thirds (68 per cent) reported that they sometimes felt isolated at work because of their hearing loss.
  • And 41 per cent had retired early due to the impact of their hearing loss and struggles with communication at work.

As a trade union movement, we should be leading the way forward on issues linked to deafness and employment. Many employers exploit and ignore the needs for reasonable adjustments, often which can be implemented without any disruption to current working practices and with minimum cost much of the time.

Many cases across the UK that involve discrimination against a deaf person occur in workplaces where companies or managers have refused to support reasonable adjustments. To tackle this, training is a must – the more people who are deaf-aware, the easier it is to support people with a hearing loss.

Access To Work is a tool that many employers are unaware they can access for those who are unsure of what adjustments are needed they will be supported via an on-site inspection and meeting which identifies what support can be given both physically and financially. These are vital as it will often allow employers to train staff to be deaf aware, install safety systems aimed at the deaf community/person and communication support.

As an equality officer for Bristol & District Amal Branch and South West Region disability lead, I believe that as a union we have changed and started becoming better in our support for those with a hearing loss, from captioning our media content to using BSL signers at conference and important online media events. However, we need to look at the future and how we can support deaf workers more effectively in the workplaces.

This can be done by training our reps in both disability and deaf awareness, providing branch equality officers with better training to support local reps on these issues such as access to industrial relations framework training and making reps aware that cases relating to disability and deafness should be logged with branch equality officers to ensure correct support is put in place. This would allow branches a stronger foothold in fighting back against employers who ignore the Equality Act.

Currently, communication for deaf members who work for Royal Mail is provided by a Facebook group called Deaf Royal Mail Group, which allows people to support each other and share content. It is a safe place with no judgements and people have access to reps. I hope it will become a network tool that those with issues related to deafness or issues within work can support each other or signpost people to appropriate support.

As one of the only deaf reps from any trade union in the UK, I’m proud to represent the CWU and I hope that by standing tall I can encourage other deaf people to stand up. I have been developing a body of work where I hope to reach out within the deaf communities all over the UK and teach people about their basic working rights and the power/benefit of being in a union. This, I hope, will enable unions to grow and become more accessible.

This March is Equality Month at CWU and we will be hosting a range of events, workshops and courses to celebrate. See the full programme here (some details to be added throughout the month) and register for our online events. Our first webinar will be Reasonable Adjustments and PPE on Thursday 4th March – 6.30-7.30pm. Details below:

Reasonable Adjustments & PPE Webinar

Thursday, 4th March – 6.30-7.30pm

Chaired by Ruth Meadows (Wales Region LGBT+ Lead, IR Rep)

Panellists: Mark Anthony Bastiani (NEC Disability Lead), Carl Maden (Acting Assistant Secretary Postal), Tracey Fussey (NEC T&FS), Dave Joyce (CWU National Health & Safety Officer)

Register in advance for this webinar:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.