Austerity and the poor state of the economy has created a tough climate for union negotiators, according to the TUC Equality Audit published yesterday (11 September).
The 2012 Equality Audit, drawn from the responses of 36 unions that represent over 97 per cent of the TUC membership, shows that despite the tougher climate unions were still able to secure better rights for workers on a range of equality issues.
Equal pay was the stand out issue for negotiators, with half of all unions surveyed successfully negotiating with employers for agreements to carry out equal pay audits and take steps to improve the pay of the lowest paid workers.
Age was the second biggest issue for negotiators with nearly half (47 per cent) of unions surveyed securing agreements with employers.
An equal number of unions secured agreements on disability, primarily about making reasonable adjustments for staff. However, unions also reported instances where disabled workers were being targeted for redundancies or suffering particular disadvantages from cost-reduction exercises.
The audit also identifies instances where flexible working arrangements are being cut back in order to reduce costs. Despite this, many unions have still been able to secure flexible working arrangements that go beyond parents and carers, including universal rights.
The audit findings confirm TUC fears that some employers are exploiting the poor state of the economy to cut back on workplace rights. The ability of unions to resist these cuts and still secure better agreements shows just how valuable union membership is in tough economic times, says the TUC.
Tee outgoing TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "Union negotiators have been working in a tough economic climate for the last three years, particularly in the public sector where hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs.
"Despite this, unions have still been able to negotiate better working arrangements for millions of workers, from flexible working and protections for low paid workers to better access for disabled staff.
"It is encouraging to see so many unions successfully negotiating on the crucial issue of pay. With people across the UK suffering from real wage cuts and tough working conditions, the best hope for workers is the protection of a union, and the hundreds of thousands of workplace reps negotiating on their behalf."