ANN HENDERSON looks at the challenges facing STUC activists
The annual STUC Women's Conference gathers in Dundee today against a backdrop of a rising cost of living, as household income continues to fall for many families.
Recent events at Ineos in Grangemouth showed clearly how little control any government has over investment decisions and job security as terms and conditions of working people are thrown to one side, and the trade union movement in Scotland has much to do in the weeks and months ahead.
With women making up nearly half the membership of Scotland's trade union movement, the number of delegates registered for conference has increased this year, representing workplaces and communities right across the country.
The motions scheduled for debate reflect the pressures on women in the workplace. Topics covered include:
Highlighting the weakening of employment legislation and the need to campaign against the "bad contracts" that are being introduced without negotiation across public and private sector - zero hours and pay by assignment being two examples
The impact of welfare reform and austerity on families in work
Potential discrimination within changes to public sector pensions
Promoting the need for investment in childcare, as central to economic growth
The impact that domestic violence, and violence against women, can have in the workplace.
The latest labour market statistics from ONS show that the female employment rate is 69.5 per cent in Scotland, an increase of 2.5 percentage points in the last year. The British rate is 66.8 per cent.
The number of unemployed women in Scotland increased over the year by 5,000, with the unemployment rate for women also showing a rise of 0.1 percentage point. Scotland's underemployment rate of 10.6 per cent also remains 3.7 percentage points above the rate in 2008. The Scottish female underemployment rate continues to be higher than the rate for males (11.2 per cent compared to 10.2 per cent).
The STUC remains concerned about the records for "economic inactivity" which mask pressures on women undertaking other "unpaid work."
We also have seen an increase in "self employed," but have raised concerns with the Scottish government about the quality and actual household income for many women in this category.
The STUC Women's Conference provides an excellent opportunity to hear from delegates about the reality of all those statistics. With a rise also recorded in the number of women registered as unable to work due to ill health, conference will be looking to promote policies which better protect our families and communities during this continuing recession.
The past 18 months have seen an increase in STUC engagement with the Scottish government and parliament. The successful Women's Employment Summit held in September 2012, convened jointly by Scottish government and the STUC, led to the establishment of an Advisory Group on Women and Work, on which the STUC general council is represented.
This is giving closer scrutiny to government policies, including recommendations on tackling occupational segregation; on youth unemployment; on health at work, with particular attention being paid to women, including workplace policies and support around maternity leave; and promoting family friendly and flexible working practices.
Better research and Scottish labour market data will also pick up on the multiple discrimination and barriers faced by people with disabilities, the BME community, older women, and all those covered by the different strands identified in the equality legislation.
The Scottish Parliament equal opportunities committee recently published a Report on Women and Work. After a lengthy consultation including evidence sessions in which the STUC participated, the Report contains a number of strong recommendations. On childcare the report commits to "ask the Scottish government what action it can take towards, and to outline a timetable for, the introduction of a statutory right to childcare, including older children and disabled children."
This represents a welcome shift to a universal delivery approach, which will need a shift in public sector resources, and we will be continuing to campaign for this to become a reality.
Whilst much of the economic policy and framework for employment rights are not directly within the remit of the Scottish government, it is important to use every avenue open to us in campaigning for progressive change, and the STUC continues to make strong representation on behalf of working people in Scotland at every level of government, including the British government, and meeting regularly with opposition politicians in Scotland and at Westminster.
The STUC Women's Conference will host a discussion session this afternoon as part of the A Just Scotland STUC consultation on the forthcoming independence referendum.
With the date confirmed for September 18 2014, we have been identifying priorities on equality and social justice, and panellists from both the Yes Scotland campaign and the Better Together campaign will answer questions. In addition, Dr Alison Hosie from the Scottish Human Rights Commission and Smina Akhter from the Muslim Women's Resource Centre will also be on the panel, which is chaired by University of Edinburgh Professor Fiona Mackay.
Internationally, the STUC Women's Conference has in the past linked up with the Justice for Columbia campaign, and this year will see further calls for increased solidarity actions with trade unionists in Columbia.
Conference can be followed on Twitter @stucwomen. Ann Henderson is an assistant secretary of the STUC.