Diversity & Equal Opportunities a Big Part of our Agenda
The PSEU has always had a big role to play in the development of an equal opportunity agenda and this continues to be the case.
A look through our Annual Reports over the past 20 years or so will show that many of the issues we now take for granted in the employments where PSEU members work came about, or were largely shaped, by the work of PSEU representatives.
Major schemes such as work sharing, term time facilities, career breaks and family leave arrangements are in place because PSEU representatives made sure that they were developed.
Some of our more recent members may not be able to conceive of, for example, a Public Service without these facilities but it did exist and there are plenty of people working in the Public Service who will remind you that there was a time, not all that long ago, when women left the service on marriage and pay was differentiated on the basis of gender – with men being paid more.
Today we continue to work to develop equal opportunities in the work place.
From a strictly legal perspective discrimination in employment is outlawed on 9 grounds:
• The gender ground
• The marital status ground
• The family status ground
• The sexual orientation ground
• The religion ground
• The age ground
• The disability ground
• The race ground
• The traveller community ground
The legislation prohibits discrimination on any of the above grounds in relation to:
• Access to employment
• Conditions of employment
• Training or experience for or in relation to employment
• Promotion or re-grading
• Classification of posts
Cases have been taken by the Union on a number of grounds including the Gender Ground; Marital and Family Status Grounds; the Age Ground; the Disability Ground and also on Maternity issues.
Rulings secured by the Union have included the fact that women were being discriminated against in promotion selections; age discrimination had been a feature in a promotion competition and that a member had been overlooked for promotion due to a disability.
Aside from taking cases the Union is also active in seeking to ensure the development of Equal Opportunity Policies & Guidelines in the employments where we represent staff. Aside from these policy statements we have also been involved in the development of a Code of Practice on Disability, Procedures to deal with Sexual Harassment and Bullying and the development of a Work Life balance agenda in discussions with many of the employers where we have members.
As a result of our policies, crèche facilities have been developed in a number of locations.
Our innovative approach to equal opportunity issues has facilitated men to take special leave without pay in connection with foreign adoptions and has resulted in an increase in the age limit for parental leave in the Civil Service.
While all of our requests are not always acted upon, the fact of the matter is that the facilities we have represent a recognition on the part of employers of a need to address real concerns brought to their attention by this Union.
The success and interest in the schemes we have helped to shape is evidenced by the work sharing scheme in the Public Service. Originally designed as a job-sharing scheme the new work sharing arrangements provide a range of working options to staff designed to suit differing needs. This scheme is currently availed of by over 5,000 Civil Servants.
The term time scheme is another innovation shaped by PSEU. Almost 1,500 Civil Servants avail of this scheme each year and the arrangement has proven to be of great benefit to people seeking to combine their home and work responsibilities.
Within the Union itself we also try to deal with the issue of equal representation of men and women in our structures. This has not meant reserving seats for people depending on their gender. Rather it has meant constantly looking at our levels of representation, seeking to identify any barriers to participation and encouraging people to take a fuller part in the work of their Union.
Evidence of the change in this area is the fact that in 1998 less than 30% of the delegates to our Annual Delegate Conference were women. The figure now stands at 43.52%. In 1998 just over 30% of our Branch Officers were women and the figure now stands at 48.34%. In the same period the numbers of women on the Union’s Executive Committee have increased from 23% to 33%.
While all of these figures indicate a trend towards more participation by women in the affairs of the Union the fact of the matter is that the majority of Union members are, in fact, women. In 1998 women comprised 38% of our total membership and the figure is closer to 58% now. Therefore there is a need to continue to monitor the position and see if additional steps might need to be looked at over time.
PSEU is also working on behalf of LGBT members as evidenced by our survey of members and their concerns and our support for equal rights for LGBT people in society generally.
As we said at the outset of this note the range of facilities now available in the workplace to assist people in combining home and family responsibilities bear no comparison with the position which obtained just over 20 years ago. That is not to say that everything that needs to be achieved has been secured. Of course, there are improvements needed, both in individual employments and at national level, to ensure that people are able to combine their work and family responsibilities. Based on our record to date PSEU members know that we will be involved in trying to secure those necessary changes.