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TUC Equality Audit 2022

Report type
Research and reports
Issue date

Winning equality is at the heart of our cause to change the world of work for good. That’s why the TUC’s annual equality audit matters. It helps us track our collective progress and spurs us on to do even better.

And the 2022 audit is published at a significant moment. The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the multiple inequalities that exist across our society – and exacerbated them. Covid-19 has exposed the inequality affecting BME and disabled workers, all too often with fatal consequences. LGBT+ workers’ mental health and wellbeing has suffered as they have been distanced from support networks. And women have been on the front line as key workers, they have taken on the brunt of caring responsibilities, and have faced the extortionate cost of childcare.

Workers are also experiencing a cost-of-living emergency as soaring inflation drives up the price of our food, energy and housing. Because of existing structural inequalities, groups with protected characteristics are likely to be hit hardest. Women, disabled workers, LGBT+ workers and BME workers all face a pay gap, meaning they have less money to cover rising costs.

We need a government that will stand up for working people, but instead we have seen chaos. Rather than addressing the crisis facing the country, the government is spoiling for a fight with workers who take action to defend their living standards. As City bonuses and top pay once again spiral out of control, ministers have failed to deliver on their promises to raise wages. This winter, millions will face the unpalatable choice between heating and eating.

Over the past four years, we have witnessed a global conversation on sexual harassment in the wake of the MeToo movement. And since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, we’ve seen the emergence of a global struggle for racial justice. But trade unions must be honest: we have to fight on two fronts. Racism and sexism are not confined to the bosses. If we are to change society, we must also overcome discrimination within our own ranks.

That’s why I’m proud we’ve launched our Anti-Racism Taskforce, which will help our movement to practice what we preach on race equality. I’m proud too of our work on sexual harassment, supporting the TUC and unions to become genuinely safe, inclusive and welcoming spaces for women members, activists and leaders.

This audit provides inspiring examples of what we’re doing to put equality at the heart of our agenda. It highlights union action to combat all forms of harassment, discrimination and prejudice. It underlines what we’re doing as employers and within our own democratic structures. But the audit also highlights where we need to raise our game.

This is my last equality audit before I retire, and I hope it inspires affiliates to organise, bargain and campaign for change. Over the past 10 years, I’ve been enormously proud of the work we’ve showcased in our equality audits – and everything we’ve done as a movement to build a fairer, more equal, more just world. From the equal pay strikes to our response to the pandemic, we’ve made a genuine difference to marginalised groups of workers. Let’s use this audit as a springboard to win equality for all our members – because now, more than ever, we demand better.

Frances O’Grady TUC General Secretary

Download Equality Audit (pdf)

Executive Summary

The TUC Equality Audit 2022 considers the steps unions are taking to promote equality in their membership, structures and processes, and to ensure they reflect the diversity of their membership.

It provides examples of how unions are recruiting and supporting underrepresented groups into membership and activism and looks at what unions are doing to give these groups a voice within the movement.

We sent questionnaires to 48 unions affiliated to the TUC, of which 85 per cent completed it and this report provides the results. The executive summary focuses on three key themes we felt it was important to pull out: voice; the quality of monitoring data; and sexual harassment.

Voice for equality groups in our movement

Trade union membership statistics from BEIS and the ONS for 2022 shows us our membership is diverse, but there is work to do. 56.8 per cent of union members are women and disabled workers account for 15 per cent of employees but 18.9 per cent of union members.

But overall BME employees are underrepresented in union membership, though the picture is complex: Black/Black British workers are slightly overrepresented among union members, while Asian or Asian British and Chinese workers are underrepresented. Young workers continue to be underrepresented in union membership and unfortunately there is still no national level data on LGBT+ union membership.

It is important that unions continue to recruit members from all demographics to ensure our membership is reflective of the working population, but we must also ensure they are given voice within our structures via our equality committees, reserved seats, conferences and rep and activist roles. The audit provides a wealth of examples of where unions have proactively updated rules to increase representation in structures or run campaigns to recruit new reps.

The data on the demographic characteristics of union reps and activists is patchy, but the pattern emerging is that women and BME workers are underrepresented in union rep roles, though with some exceptions. For example, BME members are proportionately represented in equality rep and learning rep roles.

The 2022 audit also found that the proportion of unions with formal bodies e.g. committees and networks for each of the equality strands, has fallen since 2018, but that there has been a growth in informal networks, in particular for BME members (54 per cent of unions compared with 37 per cent in 2018). Informal networks have arisen both spontaneously by members and initiated by officers, and in some cases in response to external events such as the pandemic or the Black Lives Matter movement.

The growth of informal networks is positive and provides opportunities for members to become more involved in the union. However, this growth should not be at the expense of formal networks, which feed into democratic structures.

The audit also shows a mixed picture when it comes to equality conferences. There has been a fall in the proportion of unions holding national conferences for overall equality, women and disabled and young members since 2018, when there had already been a decline since 2014. However, the proportion of unions holding national conferences or seminars for BME members has increased, and the number holding LGBT+ events stayed the same. We must ensure spaces to prioritise and debate key issues for equality groups are not lost.

Positively, the audit shows a growth since 2018 in the number of unions with reserved seats on national executive bodies across all equality strands.

The 2022 audit presents a mixed picture on the multiple ways members can have a voice within their union and as a movement we must ensure we develop more ways to encourage this and protect those that we have.

The quality of monitoring and data collection

One of the limitations in understanding where different equality groups are active in the union movement and whether unions truly represent the full diversity of our membership is the sometimes patchy data unions collect on members and in particular activists. Collecting data and understanding where those with protected characteristics are within our movement is the first building block to addressing inequality. Without data we cannot know or understand where the problems are, or if underrepresentation exists to then tackle it.

The audit found that the majority of unions do collect data on the number of women (85 per cent), BME people (59 per cent), disabled people (56 per cent), LGBT+ people (59 per cent) and young people (61 per cent) in their membership. The unions collecting data on disability and LGBT+ identity has increased significantly since 2018.

However, not all unions that collect data are able to state confidently how many of each demographic group there are at a given time because the data often comes from a sample of members or activists rather than the entire membership.

The audit notes that there has been growth in the number of unions conducting monitoring of reps and activists since 2018 but it is still lower than the number of unions collecting membership equality data and, again, there are problems with accuracy.

Unions have made progress on data monitoring and the audit provides key examples of where unions are improving on this. Looking to the next audit, we as a movement must take steps to improve the quality of our monitoring so we can truly understand representation in our unions and, importantly, where different groups have a voice or lack of it.

Sexual harassment

For the first time, affiliates were asked if they had done any specific work in the last four years to prevent sexual harassment of their staff, alongside longstanding questions on bullying and harassment. The addition of this question is to follow progress since the creation of the TUC General Council statement and guidance on sexual harassment in 2018 and the establishment of the Executive Committee working group on sexual harassment in 2021. The group aims to support unions to tackle sexual harassment within their own structures and within our wider movement by building preventative cultures.

The working group has developed a framework and supporting materials for leaders of our movement. These resources are intended to guide their work towards tackling, preventing, and responding to sexual harassment in their organisations and have been rolled out to the TUC and affiliates. This was alongside the production of research and resources to tackle sexual harassment across all employers. The working groups also have commitment to find out what unions are doing in this area and share best practice.

The questions in the audit form part of this work. Fourteen unions told us they had done specific work to prevent sexual harassment of staff in the last four years, 31 unions said they had rules or procedures covering allegations of discrimination or harassment made against its lay activists, officers and full-time officials and 34 unions had an explicit reference to dealing with harassment/discrimination within their internal complaints, disciplinary or grievance procedures.

The audit contains examples of the work unions have been doing on sexual harassment that can be used as examples for others, but the findings also show the work needed to ensure all unions are taking specific action to prevent sexual harassment of their staff and across their structures.

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