In the lead up to Mental Health Awareness week the GMB union Education team organised series of campaigning events. Although the “official” dates are May 15-21, our reps and members are facing unprecedented pressure and stress in their jobs every day.
This excessive pressure can lead to stress and anxiety, both classified as mental health categories under the Disability label within the Equality Act.
Two specific one day courses supporting reps and branches to demand better relations under their recognition agreements were held in March. They were targeting improved policies including mental health, bullying and harassment, menopause and better risk assessments for all health & safety matters.
A number of workplaces, where reps took part, have already seen a rise in levels of activity in these areas, including a much improved menopause policy and risk assessments in the field of Hand Arm Vibration work at Knowsley Council. In Jacobs following their lengthy industrial action the union branch has confronted management on health and safety practices and are launching legal challenges against arbitrary cuts in the sick pay scheme. GMB union members in Greater Manchester Police have submitted grievances on behalf of civilian staff who have been placed in unacceptable positions. Reps have forced their employer to introduce training on diversity for staff, with the union playing a major part in that education process.
Two specific one day sessions were organised in Liverpool working with United Utilities members and by Tameside Branch, both targeting mental health as an issue for members. The Thameside event takes place in Hyde on Friday May 11, contact Linda Mercer for more information. The UU inspired event attracted a wide range of reps not just from UU but across sectors. The theme is very much training and campaigning against the current attacks on GMB union members, particularly our reps.
At the event in Columbus Quay reps were quick to get to their feet and give powerful indictments and direct experiences of bullying of members, but then turning on them for daring to challenge the behaviours of managements. UU and Regional chair Billy Goulding introduced the sessions with guest appearances by new regional secretary Denise Walker and General Secretary Gary Smith who both warmly welcomed the initiative and encouraged the increase in campaigning.
Billy then introduced the first speaker who works tirelessly on health and safety campaigning, Chair and co-ordinator of the impressive Hazards Campaign Janet Newsham led off on the need to promote prevention of stress. Her powerful presentation highlighted the importance of the approach of the GMB in preventing stress by arguing for the HSE management standards and she pointed out how bullying and similar undermining of individuals and union agreements can and has led to suicides.
Regional Health & Safety officer Paul Holleran addressed the need for the union to give unyielding practical support to our reps. Describing the reps as the “GMB’s most precious asset”, Paul introduced a range of speakers including Tim Collins branch secretary and convenor at Jacobs, reps Zander Sumner and Tony Lynch of Merseycare, Linda Mercer branch secretary Tameside and Miriam Fryar from United Utilities. All speakers gave examples of the day to day struggles and pressure then turned on them by managers and HR.
Paul Holleran explained the increased pressure and attacks on these, and many other reps was because they were returning to work following regional training courses and running rings around their managements – who couldn’t handle it. Those present all agreed to recruit more reps and get them trained; step up pressure on poor managements by recruiting; taking grievances and legal action where relevant and negotiating better policies rather than allow employers to get away with incompetence and vexatious targeting of GMB union members.