Roles for reps

Supporting individual members

Workplace reps take their responsibility to represent their members seriously. Members will come to you for advice or representation on issues affecting them in the workplace. A member may have had a flexible working request declined and be unhappy with the justification for this, or they may be unsure how to approach their line manager to initiate a flexible working request. You may be approached by a member who works part-time and cannot access workplace training opportunities because they take place at times outside her normal shifts. A member may be unsure what employer contact and support to expect when she goes on maternity leave, or may be experiencing unfair treatment after telling her employer she is pregnant. You may have to represent a member who has made a complaint of sexual harassment by a colleague or manager, or you may support a member who wishes to take an equal pay case against their employer.

Your union should offer you support and/or training to ensure you are able to adequately represent your members on all of these issues. The support you provide to members through individual cases is invaluable, not just to the member, but also as a means of raising these issues with employers so they can be addressed across the workplace as a whole.

Working with employers

As a workplace rep you are likely to be in touch with your members and the issues in your workplace. Regular meetings with your employer can provide the ideal forum to raise and negotiate on those issues affecting women.

It is good practice to gather external and internal information to inform which issues you wish to prioritise. You may identify issues through member contact, or through your caseload as a rep. You may work with your employer to examine workforce data to identify wider workplace trends or areas of occupational segregation. Your union equalities or women’s committee may have identified wider priorities which you can address in your own workplace.

It is vital that trade unions ensure their commitment to addressing women’s labour market inequality is reflected in workplace reps’ bargaining strategies.

Resources for reps

The most effective way for an organisation to uncover unequal pay and put it right is to carry out an equal pay review. These are sometimes called equal pay audits.

Close the Gap recommends to employers that trade unions be involved in any steering group overseeing a pay review. You can find more information on the equal pay review process in the section Equal pay review. We have also produced a brief for unions reps on the role of a rep in conducting an equal pay review.

The public sector equality duty is a positive duty which requires public bodies to play a role in tackling entrenched and widespread gender inequality. Our toolkit on the public sector equality duty for trade union reps is designed to give trade union reps an understanding of the duty itself, what employers are obliged to do under the duty, and how reps can use the duty for the benefit of their members. You can download a copy here: Public Sector Equality Duty: a toolkit for trade union reps.

Within your union

Many trade unions also have organisational and structural issues which constrain women’s participation in the role of workplace representative, and in the wider trade union movement. Many are already working towards addressing these issues, as they recognise that women’s voices must be heard and represented at all levels if the union movement is to play its part in addressing women’s workplace inequality.

You can challenge issues affecting women's participation in your union through your branch and local and national committees structures, and by working with your union's women's or equalities committee.

Our report Shifting the Balance: Exploring trade union responses to tackling gendered occupational segregation outlines the causes of occupational segregation and the impact that it has on women in the labour market and in education and training. It also explores the work that unions have undertaken to engage on the issue, makes recommendations for unions to work towards achieving greater equality for women members in the workplace and suggests proposals for pilot work with Close the Gap.

Related publications

Close the Gap submission to the Scottish Expert Advisory Panel on the Collaborative EconomyClose the Gap submission to the Scottish Expert Advisory Panel on the Collaborative Economy The problems associated with the gig economy, insecure work and bogus self-employment have a significant impact on women.

Conducting an Equal Pay Review: the role of union repsConducting an Equal Pay Review: the role of union reps This briefing will give trade union reps an understanding of the role that they should play in taking forward an equal pay review.

CTG Working Paper 6: Invisible women, employment data collection in Scottish local governmentCTG Working Paper 6: Invisible women, employment data collection in Scottish local government As part of a joint initiative with the STUC Women's Committee, Close the Gap conducted research which was intended to assess the impact of current public spending cuts on women's employment in local government in Scotland, and to determine whether the anecdotal evidence is indicative of a shifting pattern of employment practice.

Equal pay and pensionsEqual pay and pensions This briefing highlights some of the key areas where women lose out in the UK pensions system.

Older Women in the Workplace: Balancing work with care This briefing covers some of the issues affecting older working women with caring responsibilities.

Older Women in the Workplace: Equal pay and pensions: women's inequality in retirement This publication highlights some of the key areas where women are disadvantaged in the UK pensions system.

Older Women in the Workplace: Health and safety issues This briefing covers some of the health and safety issues affecting older working women.

Older Women in the Workplace: The benefit of experience: older women's access to skills development and training This briefing covers some of the development and training issues affecting older working women.

Public sector equality duty:  A toolkit for trade union repsPublic sector equality duty: A toolkit for trade union reps This toolkit is designed to give trade union reps an understanding of the public sector equality duty as it relates to gender and employment.

Shifting the Balance: Exploring the trade union responses to tackling gendered occupational segregationShifting the Balance: Exploring the trade union responses to tackling gendered occupational segregation This resource outlines the causes of occupational segregation and the impact that it has on women in the labour market and in education and training.

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