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TUC Women’s Conference highlights how women workers bearing brunt of pandemic

By Bethany Rielly

EXISTING inequalities and discrimination has been magnified by the Covid-19 crisis with women workers bearing the brunt of the pandemic, trade unionists heard today. 

Women workers are “first in line” for redundancies and “last in line to receive decent sick pay,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady declared during her opening speech at the TUC Women’s Conference today. 

The three-day conference is taking place for the first time online, with hundreds of trade unionists tuning in remotely across the country. 

In the opening session, delegates heard how the pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities in the workplace, with women disproportionately hit by redundancies, wage cuts and furlough. 

“Those inequalities and that discrimination against women have been magnified in this crisis,” Ms O’Grady said. “We see it in terms of insecurity. We see it in terms of treatment at work, attitudes towards women at work. Sometimes, you know, it feels like we’re almost back in the 1950s in terms of the attitudes as to whose livelihood can be sacrificed.”

Referring to a recent TUC survey which took in the experiences of 50,000 working mothers, Ms O’Grady said women were “expected to pick up the pieces of home schooling,” which have had a knock-on effect on their jobs. Ms O’Grady said that many respondents were forced to ask for reduced hours, while 71 per cent who asked to be furloughed were rejected. 

Following the TUC leader, other officials shared similar experiences of the huge toll the pandemic has wrought on women workers. Trade unionists’ concerns over the unequal impact of Covid-19 was reflected by the number of motions, nearly half, submitted on this issue. 

Conference heard that nearly two-thirds of Britain’s 9.8 million key workers were women, and 2.6 million earn less than £10 an hour. 

“Women are bearing the brunt of the crisis,” Unison’s Davena Rankin told delegates. “Gender equality has gone into reverse. The government needs to step up to provide proper funding and support to make women’s working lives easier.” 

 “Pregnant women have been significantly impacted by the pandemic,” Katy Collins from the College of Podiatrists said. She added that mothers are “one and a half times more likely” to have lost their job and more likely to be furloughed. 

The government was heavily criticised by speakers for “treating women as an afterthought” in its response to the pandemic. 

But Ms O’Grady said there was also some cause to celebrate, pointing to the recent election of Unison’s first female general secretary Christina McAnea. 

“For the first time in our history we are a movement that is majority women, we are not a minority. We are the majority and we’ve got to own this movement … but we still have battles to fight.”

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