One NEC member, because of their disability, is unable to attend meetings on the ninth floor meeting room where NEC meetings are usually held. This is both a physical and mental health issue. The reasonable adjustment offered is for that member to sit in a first floor room at HQ, and participate by video link.
Technical objections to this arrangement:
1. The NEC member cannot see anyone on the NEC apart from the top table and only the top table can see them.
2. It is impossible to see votes when they are taken.
3. Sometimes people forget to say who they are when speaking and so the NEC member is left to guess.
4. All the informal liaison that takes place at meetings is impossible as they are not in the same room.
This is not the only possible solution. When the 9th floor council chamber flooded, an NEC was held in the ground floor meeting room which this NEC member was able to attend. However there has been a consistent refusal by the President to consider this simple solution becomes normal practice to allow full, equal, non-segregated participation by this member.
UNISON's strong anti-discrimination tradition
UNISON has always rightly prided itself on its very strong tradition of opposing disability discrimination. UNISON has rightly spent time and money on ensuring that members and reps with any disability can fully engage in our business. This is why we are so perplexed by the refusal to provide the simple, no-cost solution of meeting downstairs. Some have suggested it may be because the NEC member has been critical at times of the current leadership of UNISON eg when the pensions strikes were sold short. This would be a disgraceful position, if true.
Given this, some members asked for a vote as to whether we should continue with the situation of disability apartheid. Tragically, despite UNISON's fantastic record on disability rights, the NEC have been refused the right to even vote as to whether to continue this practice. An ET application was made but failed on a technicality ie the NEC members rep failed to reply within the timescale.
Principled objections to this arrangement
We are not prepared to collude in this discrimination. We have insisted on sharing the video link room with the NEC member affected. We have done this because we will not have anyone with a disability isolated in a room on their own, made to feel like a social outcast, whilst those us who can sit on the ninth floor. But this is not the answer. We stopped having inaccessible venues for wheelchairs, separate doors for men and women, and separate buses for black and white people.
Many of us work in mental health. We see discrimination on a day by day basis meted out to the clients we work with. It is sad to see this happening to a fellow NEC member. No-one wants to discuss the details of their health with anyone. Mental health is particularly difficult as the stigma and personal attacks that follow are sadly still very real. It is awful that this NEC member has had to share the details of his health problems widely to try and get a resolution to this. We hope we can return to disabled and able bodied NEC members all being in the same room.
What can you do?
- Write to the President - after conference expected to be firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pass model resolutions: “We believe that all UNISON meetings should be held in venues and with facilities that ensure they are open to all those entitled to attend, wherever practically possible.”
- Vote to re-prioritize Lambeth's Rule change 32, which reads: "Meetings of the NEC shall take place, so far as reasonably practicable, in venues which are accessible to all members eligble to stand." (NEC position is to support).
Statement supported by the following NEC members: