Women making a difference in UNISON

With more than a million women members, UNISON is always loud and proud for women at work. Tara Langan works in an NHS mental health trust in Sussex. Tara has recently become active within her branch as a steward and will soon be training as a Health & Safety rep. We spoke to her just after she completed her steward training.

“I work with the Occupational Therapist (OT) team on an older adults ward. My role is to provide an activity programme for the inpatients. In December, the ward was hit badly with COVID-19, resulting in all our roles becoming more focused on nursing physical health, rather than mental health. Other teams supported the ward due to staff also contracting coronavirus, the whole NHS team really pulled together. Some colleagues have expressed their fear of passing coronavirus to their shielding relatives.

“Our team is made up of an amazing bunch of people we have been offered debriefs which I found helpful. I feel very lucky to have a very supportive line manager, with regular supervision. They are understanding about the fact that I have caring responsibilities and has also supported me with my rep role and training. There is not a high turnover of staff on the ward so means staff understand each other well and have worked with each other for a long time.”

You have recently become a UNISON steward and H&S rep – what made you decide to do this now?

“A colleague asked me if I would consider becoming more involved and mentioned there was not many women reps within our trust. I have always been interested in employment law and health and safety. Although I felt being a rep meant you needed to take a lot of extra work on and did not know how it would fit in with work. Facility time was explained which is granted by the employer, to enable a rep to carry out their trade union role and training.”

Why do you think it is important for more women to get actively involved with UNISON?

“Women are more likely to take on the caring roles. A lot of my colleagues are single mums or caring for elderly parents. Pregnancy discrimination still happens, and a lot of women are going through the menopause. Women understand these issues as they are more likely to have experienced them.”

You’ve recently completed your stewards training online. How did you get on with it?

“I was dreading doing the training online as feared it would be very technical, and I am not the best with IT! Thankfully, it was not too bad. I found the tutorials useful and could email the tutors or call them. The course was informative and a lot of questions I wondered about were answered. I also had a member of the regional staff to support me during the training, we spoke weekly throughout my course and that extra support was really helpful.”

If you could say one thing to other women in UNISON, what would it be?

“Right now, it’s really important that we defend jobs in the NHS and save it for future generations.”

Will you join Tara in making a difference to the working lives of women in UNISON? If you want to find out more about getting involved in your union, leave us a few details and a UNISON organiser will contact you will more information.

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