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Mark Harvey


activism, “linking with people who feel most disenfranchised”, and “putting the spark back into branch meetings.” Under new union rules, every branch must have an equalities rep – as well as every workplace.

Mohammed Taj, national black and Asian committee chair, believes equality branch reps could re-invigorate branches – and is an enthusiast for conferences which bring together equality reps from diverse strands.

It’s a view shared by Sean McGovern, chair of the disabled members committee, but he says the union still has a lot of work to do. “We need to fight for recognition of equality reps; equal pay for women has not been achieved; racism still exists in the workplace; and disabled people are being overlooked at job application stage as well as undergoing bullying at work.”

One equalities rep at the conference, who didn’t want to be named, said there was no room for complacency. Not everyone in the union would sign up wholeheartedly to the progressive equalities agenda. “We can only fight for equalities if the members are behind it. At the end of the day, we need to educate our members and lead by example.”

For Jenny Douglas, chair of the LGBT national committee, conferences bringing together Unite’s different equality strands could, “play a vital role in enabling reps to learn from each other, developing expertise in other areas to the benefit of all.”

Through nurturing a new generation of activists across equality sectors, Unite will be better placed to deal with whatever the government – or employers – hurl at it. Building a new cadre of empowered, informed activists will help the union grow – and better serve its members.

21 uniteWORKS May/June 2013 At the heart

A lot has happened to Ansaar Khaliq (pictured) since the Unite equalities reps conference. Ansaar, who works on the Quality Street production line at Nestle in Halifax, was already a union learning rep as well as an equalities rep at the factory when he came down to London.

Since then, he’s been elected as regional chair of the North East and Yorkshire and Humberside region by fellow BAEM committee members – and is also acting Unite branch secretary at Nestle, pending an election.

Ansaar, 25, began working 12 hour weekend shifts at Nestle when a student. As union learning rep, he recently devised a workplace survey to chart workers’ educational attainments, creating a database to track future progress. Cannily, the union invested in four £25 vouchers. Everyone who returned the survey was entered into a prize draw. An astonishing 95 per cent were returned!

The company has invested in 10 computers at its learning centre – motivated workers will have the chance to boost their skills. Ansaar is passionate about equality and relishes his union posts. “Equality should be at the heart of everything the union does. It’s the best way of serving all members.”

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