How can unions support disabled employees?

Trade unions offer support to employees in many workplaces and may have an important role to play in representing the interests of disabled people. Our analysis of the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey demonstrates that equal opportunity practices that are likely to be important in supporting disabled people are more widely adopted in workplaces with a recognised trade union (Hoque and Bacon 2014). However, this association largely only holds where employers are willing to consult or negotiate with unions on equality matters.

In order to support disabled people and promote equality, trade unions have recently developed new specialist workplace Equality Representative and Disability Champion roles. The role of these representatives is to encourage employers to audit and improve equality (and disability) policies and offer independent advice and guidance on equality issues to employees. Our national survey of union Equality Representatives found that the majority have had a positive impact on employer equality practice (Bacon and Hoque 2012). However, it also suggests that increases in the impact of Equality Representative in future will be dependent on them receiving statutory rights to time off and on the inclusion of equality matters in the bargaining agenda.

Where Disability Champions are concerned, our survey of the population of Disability Champions found that the majority have had a positive impact particularly on employer willingness to conduct disability audits and to amend and improve employer equal opportunities practices with regard to disability (Bacon and Hoque 2015). This suggests that Disability Champions have significant potential to enhance the ability of unions to represent disabled people and help manage disability issues within the workplace.

Academic research Articles within this theme:

Bacon N and K Hoque (2015) The influence of trade union Disability Champions on employer disability policy and practice, Human Resource Management Journal, 25(2): 233-249.

Hoque K and N Bacon (2014) Unions, joint regulation and workplace equality policy and practice in Britain: evidence from the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey, Work, Employment and Society, 28(2): 265-284.

Bacon, N. and Hoque, K. (2012) The role and impact of trade union equality representatives in Britain, British Journal Of Industrial Relations, 50(2): 239-262.