One in five members of Usdaw is a woman aged 50 and over and so issues of how unions can best support and defend the interests of older women are very real for us, as for many other TUC affiliated unions.

The TUC’s recent survey of older women workers has generated a strong response from Usdaw members. It gave us the opportunity to find out more about the concerns of a section of our membership who have often been overlooked by policy makers and employers.

The work being done by the TUC and Labour Party on older women is a timely reminder that we must not forget older women workers. Unions need to show that we are in touch with the reality of older women’s daily lives. Working people see that unions have something to offer when we take up the issues that matter to them and their families. Travelling home from work late at night, women’s health issues, juggling work with caring and being treated with dignity and respect at work are all mainstream trade union issues that directly affect the lives of many older women.    

Women in their 50’s and 60’s are very often long serving staff with good people skills, who are adept at multitasking after many years of juggling the demands of their families with that of their jobs. And yet women in this age group are invariably absent from management grades and team leader roles. Employers need to make better use of the skills of older women. There is an urgent need to address the challenges faced by a declining birth rate, an ageing population and the fact that people are living – and working – for longer. Older workers are three times more likely to be employed in the retail sector than people in the 16-24 age group.

A key issue going forwards will be how to enable older workers, and women in particular, to best juggle work and caring. The Right to Request Flexible Working has enabled significant numbers of women workers to have  more of a say in their working hours and we welcome its extension to all workers from 2014. It is of real concern however that the Coalition plans to remove the statutory procedure underpinning the right. Unions will want to be vigilant to ensure that the right remains effective in the absence of;

  • a clear right to a formal meeting
  • the right to be accompanied by a Union rep at any such meeting
  • the right to have a request seriously considered within set time limits.

John Hannett is the General Secretary of Usdaw. He sits on both the Executive Committee and the General Council of the TUC and represents the interests of Usdaw members on a number of Government Commissions.


Posted on July 25th, 2013 by John Hannett filed under: Blog, Work