RCM Briefing - Report of the TUC Women's Conference, March 2016
From 9th -11th March 2016 the RCM attended the annual TUC Women’s Conference for the first time. The RCM delegation joined women trade unionists from across the TUC’s affiliated unions to debate motions of importance to female workers.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, opened the conference with a speech highlighting the importance of EU membership in maintaining employment protections, particularly equality protections. She welcomed the RCM to our first TUC Women’s Conference and we received a very warm round of applause.
The RCM delegation was made up of eight RCM members/staff.
- Dr Suzanne Tyler, Director Services to Members
- Amy Leversidge, Employment Relations Advisor
- Maisie Lafond, RCM Workplace Rep
- Ann Fordham, RCM Workplace Rep
- Natalie Linder, RCM Board Member
- Karen Constantine, Regional Head South
- Liz Cummings, Regional Officer
- Gabby Dowds Quinn, Regional Officer
During the conference our delegate, Natalie Linder, who is an RCM Board Member, was re-elected to the TUC Women’s Committee. The RCM submitted two motions to the conference, we amended one motion, we seconded five motions and supported one motion. So in total, delegates from the RCM spoke on nine motions at the conference.
Our first speech to the TUC Women’s Conference was to put forward our motion on public sector pay restraint and the gender pay gap.
The wording of our motion was:
The RCM is calling on TUC Women’s Conference to campaign to end public sector pay restraint because of the impact it has on the gender pay gap. The Government has announced plans to continue to restrain public sector pay for another four years. The RCM has calculated that if an average midwife had seen their salary rise with inflation since 2010 their salary would be £4,045 higher. According to BIS the gender pay gap in unionised workplaces is 6.2% compared to 22.2% in non-unionised workplaces. This shows a clear indicator of fairness in workplaces that have union representation and collectively bargained pay. We need the public sector pay review bodies to be able to independently recommend pay rises free from interference. The Government says it is committed to closing the gender pay gap but they cannot do this in isolation from their public sector pay policy. To close the gender pay gap they must end public sector pay restraint. The Women’s Conference calls on the General Council to campaign to end public sector pay restraint because of the impact it has on the gender pay gap.
Amy Leversidge, RCM Employment Relations Advisor, spoke to the motion at the conference highlighting that the constraints in public sector pay will impact on the gender pay gap and if the Government is truly committed to closing the gender pay gap they should start to work with trade unions as we are part of the solution. Our motion was unanimously passed.
We then seconded the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy’s (CSP) motion on pregnancy discrimination. Maisie Lafond, RCM Workplace Representative, gave a speech to conference to second the motion and spoke about the RCM’s profound concern at the level of pregnancy discrimination in the UK. Maisie spoke about the number of women being denied time off to attend antenatal appointments and described why antenatal appointments are important for women and their babies. The motion was passed unanimously.
Our next speech was to second the RMT’s motion on female carers. RCM Director for Services to Members, Suzanne Tyler, spoke to the conference about the importance of flexible working opportunities and why this is so important in maternity services when over 99% of the workforce is female. Suzanne highlighted the costs of childcare which is increasingly pressured given pay restraint in the NHS and told the conference about results from our last Heads of Midwifery (HOMs) survey that found HOMs are reporting that it is increasingly difficult to grant requests to work flexibly. The motion was passed unanimously.
Our next speech was our support for the CSP’s motion on stress in the NHS. Natalie Linder, RCM Board Member and member of the TUC Women’s Committee, spoke to the motion and told the conference about the 2015 NHS Staff Survey that found that 46% of midwives report that they felt unwell as a result of workplace stress in the last 12 months and 69% of midwives said they had come into work in the last 3 months despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties. Natalie explained that research shows that when NHS staff are motivated, engaged and looked after the outcomes of the organisation will improve; that investment in staff is an investment in care. The motion was passed unanimously.
The RCM’s fifth speech to conference was to second the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists motion on women’s health and safety in the workplace.
Amy Leversidge, RCM Employment Relations Advisor, spoke to the motion. Amy told the conference that the RCM will be running a campaign to improve RCM members’ health, safety and wellbeing which will ultimately improve the quality of care that women and their families receive. Amy highlighted that attention that needs to be placed on mental health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace in addition to physical health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace. Additionally, Amy said that as trade unions we must ensure that employers are taking responsibility for the health, safety and wellbeing of their workforce and not just telling their staff they need to build more and more resilience. The motion was passed unanimously.
Our sixth speech to the conference was to put forward our second motion ‘funding for women’s health services and the value of maternity services’. The wording of our motion was:
The Royal College of Midwives is calling on Women’s Conference to campaign for the NHS to be properly funded, in particular to tackle the underfunding of women’s health such as maternity services. The Public Accounts Committee drew attention to the concerns of funding in maternity services. Midwives and maternity support workers deliver excellent services for women and their families.
Across all four UK countries there is a tremendous amount of work done to promote woman-centred care, to improve safety, to give a greater choice of place and type of birth and to reduce unnecessary interventions. Midwifery involvement in public health has contributed to significant and sustained improvements in the health of the population and in tackling health inequalities. Even though midwives are working hard to make up for the shortfall in funding this inevitably means that women have less time with their midwife. We see this particularly with postnatal care, where care falls short of what professional guidelines and expert advice recommends. The Women’s Conference calls on the General Council to: Campaign for funding for the NHS, in particular the funding for women’s health services such as maternity.
Karen Constantine, RCM Regional Head for South England, spoke to the motion at the conference explaining how midwives and maternity support workers deliver high quality, women-centred care but because of the shortage of midwives too often the delivery of services are reliant on the goodwill of midwives and maternity support workers. Karen told the conference that the NHS needs to be properly funded including maternity services. Our motion was unanimously passed.
We then spoke to the conference on the CWU’s motion on the campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM). We had amended the wording of their motion to include the work that the RCM has done to campaign against FGM. Natalie Linder, RCM Board Member and TUC Women’s Committee Member, told the conference about how much work the RCM has done including leading on the recommendations for identifying, reporting and recording FGM as published in the two Home Affairs Select Committee Reports in 2014 and that we were fundamental in strengthening the law. The motion was passed unanimously.
The RCM then seconded ASLEF’s motion on the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland. Ann Fordham, RCM Workplace Representative spoke to the conference about the RCM’s overriding objective is to ensure high quality care for women. Ann explained that for many years the policy in all four countries in the UK has been that women should have choice over their care and this choice should extend to all aspects of maternity care including the choice of whether to have a baby or not. The motion was passed unanimously.
Finally, Natalie Linder, RCM Board Member and TUC Women’s Committee Member, seconded the motion of thanks to the TUC staff for a fantastic and inspiring conference. All in all, the RCM delegation enjoyed our experience at our first TUC Women’s Conference. We found it inspiring and engaging and it was important to have the opportunity to influence on behalf of RCM members.
Maisie Lafond, RCM Workplace Representative said: “It was an honour to be selected as part of the RCMs delegation attending their first ever TUC Women’s Conference. The conference took place in London 9th – 11th March 2016. It was supported by unions from A to Z; there were representatives from the four countries and guest speakers. On the Agenda were forty two motions, three emergency motions and three composites all of which had to be presented, seconded and supported, so a packed few days."
"I was in awe of the passion and dedication exhibited by my ‘sisters’, the room at times was electrified, none more so than when two BMA reps took to the stage to address conference and were given a standing ovation before they had even uttered a word. I left conference feeling inspired, rejuvenated and incentivised. More knowledgeable about the broader struggle and injustices women face both nationally and internationally and what fellow activists are doing to try and help/ address where they can."
"Needless to say I was nervous about attending and also having to second a motion but I need not have been. The RCM were welcomed with open arms. I am glad I attended; it was an experience not to be missed and will stay with me for ever.”
Ann Fordham, RCM Workplace Representative said: “I found the conference inspirational and it made me look at the RCM in a very different light. As a Workplace Rep I spend most of my time focussing on disciplinary meetings or attending our local JNCC and getting involved in policy writing however I forgot that the RCM is not just a professional body but also a trade union and the conference gave me personally a real chance to concentrate and think about this aspect.
"It was great to hear and discuss all-women-focused issues both in the workplace and beyond. The guest speakers were fabulous and again very inspirational as were all the delegates who told some truly amazing personal stories. However getting up and speaking as a delegate was terrifying! But an experience all the same.”