Sarah Shahid our Welfare and Equality Officer has been elected by the branch to attend this year’s National Delegates Conference which is being held in Glasgow in June.

Sarah also attended the Higher Education Conference in Bradford on the 26 February¬† – Sarah’s report

From the start it looked like it could be a highly charged Conference as we had a reference back which related to the Guest Speakers, soon after the President had spoken. This issue had to go back to Standing Orders for them to make a decision, and then come back to the Conference afterwards. Liam Byrne (Shadow MP for Universities Science and Skills) was unable to attend Conference due to personal reasons, and two speakers had been invited to speak in his place, and these were Angela Raynor (Parliamentary Candidate for North West), and Barry Sheerman (Labour MP for Huddersfield since 1979). The speaking times suggested were 15 minutes per speaker, but Conference wanted to hear from Barry Sheerman.

Denise Ward (Chair of Higher Education Service Group) moved the Annual Report where she spoke about many key points including how Universities expect more from staff for less pay, the cuts to staffing levels, how HESG plans to organise an Equality Summit this year, and we need to build on the 2% pay claim so that it can be achieved.

All the motions were debated on the Conference floor, and the key points I took from the morning were that the Equality Act has been around for some time, and most institutions use this as a tick box policy. The Vice-Chancellor, Senior Management and Governors need to take Equality and Diversity seriously and show their commitment as from HEFCE research, Black staff are under-represented.

The Anti-Racism Demonstration on 21 March was mentioned so that everyone could show their support and say no to Racism, no to Islamophobia and no to scape-goating.

The Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) provides well-needed support (note-takers, guides for those who are blind, specific laptops etc) for those Disabled Students who need it to get through their studies. Student Finance England provides 70% of funding, and this support has been targeted by the Government, to the point of where Universities will have to provide the support without finance.

Bisexuality needs to be a Trade Union issue, as there are Bi staff who work in Universities, assumptions are made, phobic comments are said from both Hetero and L&G staff, and from research into this area, Bi people report higher levels of anxiety, self-harm and suicide.

After the reference back issue had been resolved, Conference wanted to hear from guest speaker Barry Sheerman, and so Angela Raynor graciously stepped aside, and will speak at another time. He spoke about his life and mentioned about how young people under 35 face poverty due to crippling debt from University fees, trying to get a mortgage and other reasons.

Over the lunchbreak I attended the LGBT Caucus meeting which unfortunately had not been mentioned in the agenda, and will take the points raised to our National LGBT Officer.

Motion 11 looked at HE Pay, and there was a huge debate with those speaking for and against Amendment 11.1 where the submitting Branch wanted a one year settlement of a 10% increase which to others would be seen as a joke by the Employer, and we would not get the support from our sister Unions in the future if we went ahead with this motion. It ultimately fell after the competent question was put to Conference so that we could continue with business, rather than continuously debate this point. The substantive motion including amendment 11.2 was carried in the end.

Finally, under Motion 18 Disability Leave Policies, some branches are losing the vital role of Equality officer, yet the number of disabled staff (visible and hidden disabilities) is increasing, and many disabled staff are dismissed through Employer practices, so we need to fight for what is right. Disabled people should not be punished for disability-related illnesses and they need our support.

Apart from the one motion which fell, the remainder were carried, which was good to see, along with the number of first time delegates who went up and spoke about motions they felt passionate about.

Sarah Shahid

Welfare Officer and Equality Officer