CWU Women Conference report


Fighting sexual harassment everywhere was the opening theme of this year’s CWU Women’s Conference, which heard pledges from our general secretary Dave Ward and national equality officer Linda Roy to “make workplaces safe and inclusive for all workers.”

Our union’s 20th Women’s Conference, held in Bristol on Tuesday, also experienced its first-ever card vote and attracted a record number of delegates – evidence that the women of the CWU are speaking with an ever-louder voice.

In her opening speech, Linda Roy highlighted the recent sexual harassment scandal that has erupted at Westminster and in the media and film industry, but made it clear that harassment is a daily experience for many women in the world of work today and read out some of the key findings of  TUC survey.

She attacked the excuses being made by some who seek to belittle the issue, accusing them of “victim blaming” and she stressed: “Let’s be clear, being harassed at work is neither a term nor a condition of a woman’s contract of employment.”

Other issues that Linda highlighted were the union’s current campaigns on pensions, job security and fair pay across the various businesses and the need for the CWU Re-design process to “make our structures more representative of our membership.”

Dave Ward spoke further on the fight to eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace, describing the revelations as “shocking” and adding: “We know it’s not restricted to Westminster – it’s in workplaces.

“There’s no place for sexual harassment in the workplace, or in our union or in any of the workplaces where we represent members.”

A letter to branches was sent out that same day, Dave continued, and added that there will be a special discussion of the issue at the November NEC.

On the wider subject of proportionality across the CWU, the general secretary expressed disappointment that “we haven’t made the progress that we set out to do when we launched the initiative,” but he reaffirmed that this key objective is central to the Re-design project, saying: “A union that better reflects its gender and diversity will be stronger.”

“And there’s no better  organisation than a union to bridge all the divides in society.”

Dave also praised the members and activists who have led the fight for equality in the union and noted: “If it hadn’t been for some of the great women in our union, we wouldn’t have got anywhere on equality.”

He gave more details to the audience about the progress of Re-design and then took questions from the audience on a range of issues on the future strategy and direction of the union.

Dignity for women at work was the key issue behind the first two motions of the day – each of which demanded appropriate female facilities for Royal Mail and BT workers respectively.

During the debate on both propositions, which were selected for submission to next year’s national industrial conference, delegates heard that this risked women workers’ health as well as making the working day extremely difficult.

Sue Winstone, from Gloucestershire Amal Branch, moved the first motion, which described as “appalling” the “lack of accredited/recognised toilet facilities for delivery post people, especially for women on delivery” and called on the postal executive and the women’s advisory committee to “campaign within Royal Mail to highlight the health and safety issues around adequate toilet facilities and make it compulsory for Royal Mail to have a list of accredited toilet facilities attached to every walk.”

Seconding the motion, York & District Amal Branch delegate Rachel Moon told conference that women were going without drinking water during the working day – even in hot weather – in order to avoid needing to “go” during their delivery, while Morag Rose, from Scotland No5 Branch, said that she had  been told of managers advising workers to knock on a customer’s door.

Julie Rich, from Somerset, Devon & Cornwall Branch, moved the second motion, which also stated that it was “appalling” that “in the 21st-century BT Group cannot offer suitable toilets for its female workforce across much of its building portfolio.”

In many buildings the only toilet “is sometimes just a urinal, which is unscreened and with no lock on the door,” the motion stated, instructing the women’s advisory committee to “work with the relevant CWU officers to ensure that BT and BTFS urgently address the issue of access to suitable male and female designated  and lockable toilets in BT buildings where only one toilet is available.”

First-time conference speaker Holly Bate made a bit of history, when the vote on the motion she moved – calling for branch equality audits – was so close that a card vote was called, for the first time at a CWU Women’s Conference.

Introducing the proposition on behalf of the South West Equality Committee, Holly explained that the intention was to assist branch women’s officers – and other equality officers – “to secure the financial resources to visit branches, start campaigns, or visit members across their branch area.”

An annual “equality audit would show the amount of equality activity within a branch and give clear data to address any non-engagement,” she added.

Following the debate, a show of hands was too close to call and a card vote was called, resulting in a narrow win for Holly – and the resolution was then also selected as one of two the will be submitted to CWU General Conference next April.

The other General Conference motion selected was a call to “end period poverty”, through a campaign for free sanitary product provision to women and girls on low incomes.

A range of other resolutions were also adopted by conference, on sending a delegation to the Labour Party Women’s Conference, advancing proportionality in the union, training for women reps, the future of the CWU equality conferences, and equality in employment.

Conference also heard from a very interesting list of guest speakers, which consisted of Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, former boxer Kelly Morgan, MEP Mary Honeyball, and Bristol Labour councillor and CWU Bristol Branch chair Kye Dudd.