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TUC Equality Audit 2018

Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
Section D - Union services, training, campaigns and communication

Equality-related union services and benefits

Since 2014, there has been a decline in services and benefits from trade unions aimed at particular strands of members. These services have been declining for some time, and 2018 is no exception.

The most likely targeted service to be provided is a website or special area of a site. Just over half of unions provide websites for women, for BME members, for LGBT+ members and for younger or older members – this proportion is much lower than in 2014. The next most common strand-specific service or benefit is targeted publications.

Only small proportions of unions monitor their general service provision to see if it delivers equality of access. Eleven per cent do so for women and for BME members, and nine per cent do so for disabled, LGBT+ and younger or older members.

An important equality-related service provided by unions is taking discrimination cases to tribunal.

All unions were asked if they monitored the number of cases they take to tribunal under each of the discrimination jurisdictions. Just under half of unions that responded monitored the cases taken to tribunal.

There was a noticeable increase since 2014 in monitoring of cases relating to sexual orientation (up from 14 unions to 17) and
gender reassignment (up from 13 to 17). A new category added to the questionnaire was cases of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, which were monitored by 45 per cent of unions.

The NUJ noted that its monitoring showed  there was a drop in the number of cases taken to tribunal in each category when the Employment Tribunal fees were introduced, despite the union paying the fees on behalf of members.

The NEU (ATL section) said its monitoring showed the most common issue facing its members was employers’ refusal to allow women having had a baby to return to work part-time. It also said there was a big problem of disability discrimination, which also formed the largest group of cases for the TSSA and Unite (although Unite notes that its very large volume of “unfair dismissal” cases may include discrimination elements which are not included in its monitoring report).


Most unions provide training on equality  or diversity awareness for lay officials and members, and the proportion doing so has increased from 79 per cent in 2014 to 89 per cent in 2018. A union that has recently started doing this is the BDA, who says all reps are now given such training as part of the union’s new training package, which includes TUC eNotes.

Photo: rep talking to colleague

Two-thirds of the unions completing the main questionnaire said they provided lay reps with training in taking discrimination cases – 29 per cent did so regularly and 37 per cent did so ‘as and when’.

Unions completing the main questionnaire were asked if they provided any trade union training and/or development opportunities specifically aimed at any of the equality strands. A higher proportion of unions are now offering targeted opportunities for trade union training than did four years ago (other than for women), as Chart 10 shows.

Chart 10: Unions providing targeted TU training (%)

Chart 10: Unions providing targeted TU training (%)
Base: Unions completing main questionnaire of 2018 audit (35)

Large unions are significantly more likely than others to have the funding and resources to offer targeted training and learning opportunities to specific groups of members.

As a result, 100 per cent of the large unions provide trade union training specifically aimed at women and young members. All but one of the large unions do so for BME, disabled and LGBT+ members. By comparison, only 58 per cent of medium unions and 12 per cent of small unions completing the main questionnaire provide TU training targeted at women. A similar pattern exists for training aimed at the other strands.

An example of specially targeted trade union training is the course designed by the UCU for BME members who want to be more involved within the union. It provides an overview of the union’s structures and how BME members can be proactive within the union. UNISON provides Black officer training in some regions: this covers equality issues that impact on Black workers and how to support and access services on behalf of members. There are also mentoring schemes to advance Black officers’ skills.

Unions also monitor the diversity of participation in their trade union training. Half of unions monitor the gender and ethnic background of attendees at their training and education courses, with about two in five doing so for disabled and LGBT+ workers. But there has been a reduction in this monitoring since 2014, as Chart 11 shows.

Chart 11: Unions monitoring diversity on training and education courses (%)

Chart 11: Unions monitoring diversity on training and education courses (%)
Chart 11: Unions monitoring diversity on training and education courses (%)

Many unions that do conduct monitoring do so via a form that is completed by course participants. Usdaw has recently added to or amended its monitoring categories in respect of sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

Some unions take steps to encourage participation in education and training courses by members of the equality groups, although the proportion who do so is lower than in 2014. Chart 12 shows that about a third have taken such steps in each case, although only a quarter have acted to ensure age diversity.

Chart 12: Unions encouraging different groups to participate in union training and education (%)

Chart 12: Unions encouraging different groups to participate in union training and education (%)
Base: Unions completing main questionnaire of 2018 audit (35)

Most of the unions who said they did this in 2014 but haven’t done so in the last four years were small and medium unions. But two large unions had only taken steps to encourage one strand – BME members – to participate in the 2018 audit, compared with all strands in 2014.

The NEU (NUT section) changed its reps training to run it on a regional basis, as it found that many women did not attend its national training courses. The union reported that as a result the number of trained women reps has significantly increased: in the last two years the union has gained 1,057 trained women reps, representing 59 per cent of the total.

Since 2014 trade union training has been affected by government funding cuts to training such as the removal of fee remission, cuts to Further Education adult skills and continued pressure on paid release time for reps, but even with these challenges unions continue to provide equality training for lay
reps, officials and members. 


Most of the unions completing the main questionnaire (86 per cent) say they take some action to ensure that their materials indicate a diverse membership or audience, and that language is accessible and does not cause offence to particular groups. Almost half (43 per cent) of the unions completing the main questionnaire also take steps to enable or encourage branches to produce communications indicating a diverse audience.

The audit asked unions a new question in this area in 2018, which was whether they had launched any campaigns or policy initiatives that have consciously sought to link two or more equality strands in the last four years. The NUJ has introduced an equality strands meeting which draws together the chairs and vice-chairs of the equality groups to look at multi-strand issues. Another aim is to work collaboratively to raise the profile of equality issues among the membership and encourage participation. The group has also been reviewing Project Diamond on diversity within the media.

Half of unions responding to the audit (53 per cent) reported having taken some measures to make their campaigns and communications materials accessible to people with visual or hearing impairments since 2014.

The TSSA’s Time to Grow strategy

The TSSA has established a Time to Grow strategy with two action points: to “make members the face of our union” and “stand up for respect and equality, be relevant to all groups”. The union is therefore looking for members to be the face of its campaigns, share their stories and include these in various communications. It has started to develop role model posters of LGBT+ members and staff with positive messages, with the aim of breaking down stereotypes and discrimination against LGBT+ people. It follows the approach the union used in relation to neurodiversity, and will be replicated in future campaigns on, for example, mental health and Fair Pay=Equal Pay.

Increasingly, unions are moving towards providing materials online, which provides more flexibility for adjustments. Many unions have created responsive websites that allow members to enlarge copy and, in some cases, accept speech commands. The NASUWT produces its videos in accessible formats, including with subtitles, and NARS says all its print, website and social media communications are accessible to those with hearing impairments.

Half of unions (53 per cent) provide some campaign and communications materials in languages other than English. In Unite there is increasing demand for material in different languages due to the increasing number of migrant workers in its workplaces. The union also has a number of multi-lingual organisers, and an employee who translates materials into Braille.

Half of unions responding to the audit (50 per cent) say they “consider /monitor the impact” of their campaigns on the diversity of their membership. The TSSA has developed a project planning toolkit that includes making an assessment of outcomes in relation to equality as part of the project planning process. The union has also, as part of its agreed operational plan, started surveying staff to identify what they are doing to  further the union’s equality agenda in their
projects, organising plans and general areas of responsibility.