It’s time to fix the way we work

Health and wellbeing have never been more pressing concerns for so many people. That’s why ULRs and other reps packed out what turned out to be unionlearn’s last event before lockdown.

Health and wellbeing event

Unionlearn’s learning, health and wellbeing event in March could not have been more timely, as dozens of ULRs and other union reps explored issues that gained even greater significance when the government announced the UK lockdown one week later.

That the event sold out within days of being advertised earlier in the year demonstrates how ULRs and other union reps have taken this agenda to heart in recent years, long before the Covid-19 crisis, as unionlearn Director Kevin Rowan pointed out.

Kevin told the participants at Congress House.

The popularity of this event shows how important these issues are to you and to the people you represent at work.”

But the battle to contain coronavirus showed how workers’ rights and public health were two sides of the same coin, he said. It was union pressure that convinced firms like ISS, Sodexo and Greggs to pay workers full pay when they had to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the disease.

Kevin said:

The presence of trade unions in our workplaces always makes such a positive difference – we know that where we have trained health and safety reps, workplaces are literally twice as safe as non-unionised workplaces.”

And where we’ve got trained and supported union learning reps, we know that workers are much more likely to be able to develop their skills, participate in learning and have a more rewarding and more secure career as a result.”

National Projects Officers Jane Warwick and Louisa Smith put together a packed agenda to help ULRs and other reps promote health and wellbeing at work; find out about resources and campaigns that could be useful; learn more about some key mental health issues; and share their ideas and best practice.

Jane highlighted the organising potential of promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace, pointing out: 

By raising topics like health and wellbeing, you can engage people who don’t normally engage in trade union activities, which is one way to build the network of union members in your workplace.”

Reading Agency Creative Director Debbie Hicks highlighted the benefits of the organisation’s Reading Well scheme, which aims to help people better understand and manage their health and wellbeing through five book lists, covering mental health, dementia, long-term conditions, children and young people.

Debbie said:

Reading really can connect us up with other people and combat the devastating impact of loneliness.”

All the evidence shows loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; there’s a proven link between loneliness, depression and dementia; and people who are lonely are more likely to die prematurely.”

Author James Withey, whose first book The Recovery Letters features on the Reading Well for mental health list, spoke openly about his struggle with clinical depression.

TUC Policy Officer Quinn Roache set out the union case against employer-led stress management and resilience programmes that are predicated on fixing individual workers rather than dealing with the workplace issues that are making them ill.

Quinn said:

What they say is the issue is not with what we’re asking you to do, the issue is with you the employee, it’s your problem, so let’s help you deal better with the stress we’re putting on you.”

In addition to the main presentations, the workshops looked at menopause, mindfulness, self-esteem, creative writing, supporting people with suicidal thoughts and running a health and wellbeing event at work.

Unionlearn has a number of health and wellbeing resources available as part of its “[email protected]” campaign pages – including free CPD and bite-sized courses.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2020 Learning Rep.