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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Disabled workers fight for fair pay

by New Worker correspondent

LOCAL government and health union Unison held their annual disabled members’ conference last weekend in Brighton.

In her keynote address to delegates, assistant general secretary Christina McAnea stressed that eliminating pay discrimination for workers with a disability was a major priority for the union.

She said that a survey of disabled members made for pretty disappointing reading. This revealed that: “One third said when they told their employers they were disabled they didn’t get any support. Half said they faced barriers to doing their job that could be removed through simple adjustments and two-thirds didn’t know they could ask for paid disability leave.”

She warned that the union had to “train branch reps in disability-rights issues and bargain to make it easier for workers with disabilities to do their jobs and advance their careers”, before concluding that: “Disability rights is a union issue and we’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s high on everyone’s agenda.”

Maureen Le Marinel, a delegate from Lancashire Police, said that restriction on facility time meant that branch welfare officers found it difficult to advise disabled applicants properly through the byzantine rules to obtain the support they are entitled to. Another delegate, Margaret Calendar from Scotland, said there was a “disabilities deficit” in training for activists — especially when dealing with the issue of reasonable adjustments, where employers can and do refuse to comply with requests that are, in fact, completely reasonable and can help ensure that disabled workers can continue to do their work.

Unison president Josie Bird said that: “A quarter of local authority jobs have been lost since 2010,” adding that: “A million public service workers are still paid below the living wage [and] the gender pay gap actually widened over the last 12 months.”

Delegates unanimously voted for a Newcastle City Branch motion demanding mandatory reporting on the disability pay gap, which according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission is at its highest level since records began.

The last day of the conference coincided with the publication on Monday of a new report by the Trades Union Congress on Disability Employment and Pay Gaps 2019, which demonstrated the widespread problems faced by disabled people in both obtaining and keeping jobs.

The report revealed that the UK has a major disability employment gap of 29.8 per cent. This is based on the fact that 51.8 per cent of disabled people of working age are employed whereas the rate for non-disabled people is 81.6 per cent. This is slightly down on last year but the increase of disabled employees is only 0.8 per cent, which means that the government’s 2017 pledge to get one million more disable people in employment, aiming to halve this gap, will take another 37 years at this rate.

For those disabled people lucky enough to secure a job their wages are significantly lower, by 15.5 per cent, which means that on average a disabled worker earns £1.65 per hour less than their non-disabled counterpart, or £3,003 less per year based on someone working a 35-hour week.

This gap is due a higher proportion in part-time work, which tends to be paid less than full-time jobs. They are over-represented in lower-paid occupational groups, for example caring, leisure and other services, and sales and customer services, and less likely to be in higher paid roles such as managers, directors or senior officials.

The report notes that: “Comparing gross hourly pay by degree-level qualification shows that even when disabled people have a degree, they earn less than their non-disabled counterparts with equivalent qualifications. Pay gaps between disabled people and non-disabled people without degrees are lower than for the whole population but still persistent” and it blames: “Unlawful discrimination, negative attitudes and structural barriers are holding back disabled people both in educational achievement and progress in work.”

The report’s launch was timed for the Disability Pay Gap Day on 4th November, which is a new annual campaigning day marking the day when disabled workers stop being paid. This marks the fact that disabled workers effectively work 57 days per year without pay.