TUC Women's Conference supports NUJ motion on parenthood
Fiona O'Cleirigh at the TUC Women's Conference - © Photo: Janina Struk
Debbie Smith at the TUC Women's Conference - © Photo: Janina Struk
18 March 2013
NUJ motions at the TUC Women's Conference 2013 calling for a campaign for parenthood to become a protected characteristic under the Equality Act and for media companies to protect journalists against online abuse were overwhelmingly carried.
This year's theme "Mobilise and Organise" reflected the concern in many motions about the government's austerity measures and the disproportionately detrimental impact these cuts are having on the lives of women.
As the Government moves to change maternity rights and remove the statutory procedure for requesting flexible working, there were a number of motions on maternity and parental rights, focusing on the steady rise in pregnancy discrimination and the tendency for women returning from maternity leave to be selected for redundancy.
NUJ delegate Fiona O'Cleirigh moved the NUJ motion on parenthood to be defined as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, outlining the way promotion prospects are limited for women who are or might become mothers. Fiona said that it was not enough for gender to be a "protected characteristic" for female parents as parenthood could refer to men and women alike. The motion was overwhelmingly carried.
The second NUJ motion on sexual harassment in the media has been on the NUJ's agenda for decades, but with the Savile revelations and the increase in sexual harassment claims across the media, the motion was incredibly topical and drew support from Federation of Entertainment Union colleagues and a wide range of other unions.
Debbie Smith moved the motion. She said that use of the word "trolling" to describe people who abuse others, often anonymously, via the internet trivialised this particular kind of gender-based invective. Often it went much further than just disagreeing with an online writer's views and involved violently sexist and abusive language and threats.
She also informed conference of the NUJ's contribution to BBC's review on its policies and processes relating to sexual harassment headed by Dinah Rose QC. The request for confidential evidence by the NUJ had resulted in the general secretary's telephone ringing constantly in the run up to Christmas 2012.
The motion said: "Women journalists are often afraid of challenging online abusers because of the impact it may have on their careers and online attacks are but one of many forms of sexual harassment they must deal with in their lives." Following highly charged contributions from other delegates, it was passed unanimously.
The NUJ's six-member delegation also supported the motion moved by the Communication Workers Union on gender proportionality in the trade union movement, requesting that the TUC Women's Committee should do a mapping exercise to gather information to establish the gender breakdown of key national and regional positions in each union and to share good practice taken by TUC affiliated unions to bring about gender proportionality.
An analysis, published to mark the final day of the conference showed that more than two in five women workers over 50 want fewer hours in their current job. While the recession has been characterised by rising under-employment, people doing part-time jobs but wanting full-time work or more hours in their current job -the TUC analysis of official statistics shows that too many hours is also a big issue, particularly for older women.
Around two in five women (40.1 per cent) aged 50-64 say they want fewer hours in their current job. This rate falls for women aged 20-34, three in ten (30.3 per cent) of whom want less hours. Read more about the TUC research.
Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary said:
'While under-employment is a big issue for many workers today, there are millions of people that actually want fewer hours at work. 'The need to work fewer hours is particularly acute for the millions of women over 50 who have to balance work with multiple caring responsibilities. Unfortunately too many employers don't recognise any caring roles beyond motherhood, forcing many older women to trade down jobs in order to look after grandchildren, older kids or their own parents."
Sexual harassment in the media
Conference notes that while sexual harassment has always been part of society, its occurrence and impact on women is largely ignored. In addition to groping and lewd comments in the analogue world, women using digital media are faced with online abuse, often of a sexual, sometimes violent nature.
Labelling online sexual harassment as 'trolling' can trivialise this specific form of gender-based abuse. Female journalists and commentators often feel unable to debate issues openly owing to a fear of personal attacks. Online media comments sections often have minimal if any investment in editorial moderation, with little action taken when abuses are flagged.
Women journalists are often afraid of challenging online abusers because of the impact it may have on their careers and online attacks are but one of many forms of sexual harassment they must deal with in their lives.
Media companies should protect their journalists, and must do more to hold online abusers to account when they publish abusive or harassing comments.
Conference calls on the TUC to campaign on the issue of online abuse of all women contributors, and campaign to ensure that media managers protect women writers from personal attack when their work is published online.
Parenthood to be defined as protected characteristic
Conference notes the imbalance in gender profile in some industries, particularly amongst older workers. The demands of parenthood force many women, often cast as main childcare providers, to make work a lower priority at critical points in their career. As a consequence, women may face significant discriminatory assumptions and actions from employers.
Conference believes that the right to raise a child without discrimination in current or future employment belongs to both men and women.
Conference further believes that it is not enough for gender to be a 'protected characteristic' for female parents as parenthood can be a characteristic of men and women alike. This creates a loophole for employers who choose to limit promotion prospects for women who are, or might become, mothers. In practice, women have traditionally paid the price at work for raising children. Additionally, a man raising a child may face similar discrimination at work and also find it hard to claim sexism as the cause.
Conference calls on the TUC to campaign for parenthood to become a 'protected characteristic' under the Equality Act, through amendments to the existing legislation, and to raise awareness, where possible, of the needs of both mothers and fathers at work.