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#TUCWomen 2019: Sisters in Solidarity

8 March 2019

Motions calling for action against the pay and pensions gap predominated at the TUC’s Women’s conference, which unanimously backed the NUJ’s call for the development of opportunities for women in photography by promoting mentoring scheme, grants and scholarships to address gender imbalance.

The first day of conference coincided with Women’s Pay Day and the TUC published analysis revealing that the average woman waits more than two months of the calendar year before she starts to get paid, compared to the average man.

The gender pay gap stands at 17.9 per cent, resulting in women effectively work for nothing for the first 65 days of the year until they begin to get paid on Women’s Pay Day, 6 March. In the information and communication industry, women must wait until 18 March.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “The UK has one of the worst gender pay gaps in Europe. Making employers publish information on their gaps is a start, but it’s nowhere near enough. Employers must be legally required to explain how they’ll tackle pay inequality at their workplaces and advertise jobs on a more flexible basis.”

TUC Women's conference
Frances O'Grady

She said workplaces which recognised unions were more likely to have family-friendly policies and fair pay, so a good first step for women worried about their pay was to join a union. The NUJ believes employers must be required carry out equal pay audits and produce plans to close the pay gap in their workplace or be fined. 

The conference heard that the pensions gender gap, at 39.9 per cent, was even worse. Women who took time out of work to care for their children or elderly relatives were penalised. “The world of work has changed, and pensions need to reflect the lives of women. Many of us face a bleak future when we reach retirement,” said one delegate.

 Frances O’Grady celebrated the victories of women trade unionists in the past year: the Glasgow city council workers – 8,000 cleaners, caterers and carers – who took strike action for equal pay and won; the young women at McDonalds fighting for a living wage; those at TGI Fridays who challenged the scandalous theft of their tips;  and at Ryanair where they won recognition at what had been a bastion of union busting.

She said: “And let’s have some praise for older women too – from Wigan NHS Trust to the cleaners on strike at the government’s own business department here in London, taking on, and defeating, the privateers profiteering from their dedication and labour."

The NUJ’s motion on the gender imbalance among photographers and videographers pointed out that only 15 per cent were women. Natasha Hirst, the first woman chair of the NUJ’s Photographers’ Council, said ethical photojournalism was essential to hold power to account and to reflect society: “It is crucial that we have a diversity of voices in photojournalism. We need opportunities for a wide range of women, from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds with experience of disability, poverty and oppression in a variety of forms. Photography is a traditionally male-dominated industry, and this means the stories being told are framed largely by men.”

She said 68 per cent of women photojournalists reported facing discrimination in their work. Stereotyping, sexism, lack of opportunities and having to juggle a family life with work hampered them: “Women have spoken to me about being pigeon-holed with ‘women’s issues’ commissions, and the largely self-employed nature of the industry means we often lack access to parental leave, holiday pay and other benefits of secure employment.” The motion, unanimously carried, called on the TUC’s Women’s Committee to work with the NUJ Women’s Network to support the development of opportunities for women in photography and to promote mentoring schemes, grants and scholarships addressing gender imbalance. (Full motion below).

TUC Women's conference
Pennie Quinton & Magda Ibrahim

NUJ delegates, Ann Galpin, Ann Coltart, Pennie Quinton and Magda Ibrahim, spoke on a range of issues affecting women members, including universal credit, sexual harassment and dignity at work, mental health and shared parental pay for the self-employed. They told conference the freelance sector is one of the fastest-growing sections of the union, with many journalists losing their staff jobs in newspapers, and it has led to greater insecurity and instability.

Pennie Quinton said: “Many in the UK who have had variable income, a feature of freelance life, have relied on working tax credit to tide them over lean months. When the government moves them on to universal credit they lose out, sometimes massively because it doesn't take account of big fluctuations in freelances' income - as well as imposing a time penalty in effectively re-applying monthly.” Pennie also seconded a motion about shared parental pay, saying freelances should also be eligible for this benefit and urged conference to back the Shared Parental Leave Pay (Extension) Bill proposed by Labour MP Tracey Brabin. Since 2015, shared parental leave legislation has enabled employed couples to split up to 52 weeks of their time off work after the birth of their child and 39 weeks of statutory pay. But the right does not extend to the self-employed. Natasha Hirst said being freelance meant having to deal with copyright, chasing up payments and securing the work in the first place. “If you are harassed at work, where do you go to complain, because you might be worried about whether other people will employ you?” she said.

TUC Women's conference
Natasha Hirst & Ann Galpin

In a debate on sexual harassment in the workplace, Natasha gave an example of how she had been treated as a woman photographer: "I was covering an evening event and one man in attendance decided that the very act of me doing my job and taking photos of everyone constituted me flirting with him. Despite making efforts to avoid him he kept popping up in front of me and at the end of the evening grabbed me by my face and started to kiss me. It was witnessed by people who just laughed it off and did nothing to intervene. We encourage unions with workplace recognition to ensure that policies and support mechanisms also extend to the freelancers they book. Sexual harassment is designed to shut down voices. The #MeToo movement put sexual harassment in the spotlight and we must do everything in our power to keep it there.”

Ann Galpin said: “Workplace bullying, sexual harassment, gaslighting and online abuse are but a few of the factors which contribute to the growing incidences of mental distress reported by our female members. This abuse must stop! Many are still reluctant to disclose this distress for fear of being stigmatised; we need to support our sisters and work with employers to offer improved access to resources, so they no longer suffer in silence.”

TUC Women's conference
Ann Coltart

Anne Coltart supported an RMT motion which called for a campaign to recruit more women seafarers, officers and ratings, although she said she couldn’t swim. She was much cheered by the number of young women and first-time delegates taking part in debates, she added.

Conference voted for a motion on period poverty to go forward to TUC Congress. It noted that “during a woman’s lifetime she will spend £18,000 on her periods – however for some women the impact of poverty, pay and welfare cuts can mean choosing between food or sanitary wear” and girls missing school because of period poverty. It called on the TUC’s Women’s Committee to “lobby the government to provide free sanitary wear to low-income families, schools, colleges, universities and homeless shelters”.


WTUC delegation
#NUJ sisters

This conference notes that according to the founder of, Daniella Zalcman, only 15 per cent of photojournalists are women. Women disproportionately drop out of the photography industry, even though photography degrees usually have more female than male students. The work of women photographers is under-represented in galleries and within news publications. In 2017 the Times review reported that photos in many major publications’ collections of the most significant images of 2016 overwhelmingly carried male photographer’s credits — ranging between 80-100%. Men and women experience life differently and have different perspectives to offer, yet the view of what constitutes ‘good photography’ has largely been defined by the work of men. Little has changed despite several outstanding female photographers leading the way to new directions in storytelling, stories from marginalised communities from a female lens will not be seen unless women photographers have access to career opportunities. To remain relevant and authentic, the photography industry must seek to become more diverse to fairly reflect the communities it reports on.
Conference calls on the TUC to:
1. Work with the NUJ Women’s Network to support the development of opportunities for women in photography.
2. Promote mentoring, grants and scholarships and proactively address gender imbalance

Tags: , tuc, TUC women's conference, photography, videography, photographers, videographers, equality, diversity, sexism, stereotypes, discrimination, gender pay gap, gender pension gap, pensions, mental health, bullying, harassment, period poverty