Discrimination is endemic in Further and Higher Education. As a union, we tend to deal with inequality on an individualised, case-by-case basis, with little scope for national collective bargaining. Casework takes an enormous amount of labour – emotional and physical – from dedicated branch representatives. Again, the way forward lies in proper, systematic, national coordination of branches’ current efforts to address the issue.
5.1 Nationally coordinated casework
At present, UCU has no central hub for equality-related casework data, and no in-house legal team to deal with these issues in a specialised way. As General Secretary I will create positions for specialist, full-time equality casework officials. These officials will collate information, identify emerging trends and patterns of discrimination, target potentially high-profile cases for special assistance, and work towards precedent-setting legal challenges and broad-based agreements with employers. When, for example, there is a spike in the use of performance management to dismiss members with disabilities, or in the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements to silence victims of bullying, sexual harassment, or racial discrimination, our equality specialists will be ready to bring the problem to the attention of the national equality committees, helping them to publicise it more widely and feed it back into our national and regional casework training and campaigning. This will be a valuable mechanism for naming and shaming the worst employers, and amplifying and celebrating our best casework successes.
5.2 National bargaining on non-pay equality issues
UCU has not successfully negotiated with employers on a national level over issues that are unrelated to pay. At at the heart of any trade union struggle is a fight for equality: issues like sexual harassment and transgender rights, and maternity and paternity rights. In both FE and HE, the national bargaining frameworks should be expanded to include these things. UCU should be demanding not only an improvement to the pay spine, a plan to close the ethnicity pay gap, or a reduction in casual contracts: we should be calling for and working towards a national collective labour agreement that recognises how different forms of material deprivation and discrimination intersect with and compound one another, and aim for a comprehensive solution. When UCU next goes on strike over pay, this should be a mandatory additional requirement if employers want to bring us back to the negotiating table.