Beth Farhat column: Trade unions in the North East have faced tough times

Regional secretary of the TUC says that it has been a challenging two years since the last TUC regional conference

Iain Buist Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC
Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC

Trade unions in the Northern region have faced an extremely challenging two years since the last TUC Regional Conference.

The Tory-LibDem Coalition has certainly lived up to Cameron’s pre-election promise that the areas of the country most dependent upon public sector employment will be impacted most by the current Government’s economic and fiscal policy.

The Northern region has seen massive job losses in both the public and private sectors. We have witnessed public services disappearing as central government has strangled local government grant funding in a way that is disproportionately detrimental to the north.

In health and education we have seen crude attempts to undermine terms and conditions while the civil service have also seen massive job losses, office closures and political attacks with the removal of the check-off facility. Right across the public sector workers have faced up to major changes to their pensions, ongoing pay freezes and been at the forefront of a radical and dramatic assault by an ideologically motivated government.

Trade unions in the region have not recoiled from these attacks but have responded with effective, strong, coordinated campaigns to ensure that the general public are fully aware of the impact of government cuts, are supportive of trade union campaigns and understand that there is an alternative to austerity. Through the Public Services Alliance Coalitions we have engaged with service users and local communities to bring together those affected by the cuts and highlight the impact of austerity on individuals and their families.

With two out of three jobs in the public sector carried out by women, it is no surprise that women’s unemployment in the region has increased by 11% in the last 12 months alone. It is also women who are bearing the brunt of the Coalition’s austerity measures including welfare reform and especially the bedroom tax; 66% of benefit savings have come from women’s pockets.

Childcare costs have risen to such a level that some women are questioning whether they can afford to work. The equalities protections that we have fought so hard for through the decades are in real danger of being eradicated all together.

In the face of these difficult challenges the TUC has continued to pursue a positive agenda, adding value to the work of trade unions. Economic engagement takes place in a very different landscape; more differentiated and fragmented with three LEPs instead of one RDA.

The region’s performance on the learning and skills agenda continues despite the tough environment for unions, unionlearn and some employers. The excellent work of trade unions and the TUC promoting health and wellbeing through the TUC coordinated North East Better Health at Work Awards is making great strides and is needed now more than ever as workers report increasing incidences of stress in the workplace.

The Northern region remains challenged by low pay and high unemployment; the growth of food banks is perhaps the starkest indication of the real impact of this government’s mishandling of the economy. Deep and ongoing poverty has exposed large swathes of our communities to risk of exploitation by loan sharks, legal and otherwise, and the work the TUC and trade unions have done on highlighting the impact of poverty pay, pressing for a living wage; campaigning to end loan-sharking and promoting the use of credit unions is of huge importance now and moving forward.

Above all, the Northern region has a well-earned reputation for strong and effective trade unions, for collectivism and for working in unity for the interests of working people and their families.

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Beth Farhat

Regional secretary, Northern TUC

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