ASLEF at Women's TUC 2019

12 March 2019

ASLEF sent a delegation of five women to the Women's TUC Conference at the beginning of March: Deborah Reay, District 8 and Women's Representative Committee Chair, Alison Miller, District 2 and Women's Representative Committee Secretary; Julie Clegg, District 3; Bianca Rennie, District 5 and Kerry Cassidy, District 7.

Members of our delegation spoke in several debates, including on period poverty, rail safety and mental health.


The motion on period poverty which ASLEF tabled, which was composited with the CWU, was passed by conference and will go forward to TUC Congress later in the year.




On the first day, TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady addressed the conference. She spoke about the positive trade union events of the year, including women in Glasgow winning a 12-year battle over equal pay in the public sector, and also the huge achievement in the Republic of Ireland to liberalise abortion laws.

She also addressed the Prime Minister's ongoing incompetent handling of the Brexit negotiations, saying "workers' rights are not for sale!"


Mandy La Combre from the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th, spoke on day 3 of conference. The successful Repeal the 8th campaign to liberalise abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland in 2018 saw support from right across the labour and trade union movement both in the Republic of Ireland and here in the UK, with thousands of activists showing their support.


Mandy spoke about abortion rights as a workplace issue, and name-checked ASLEF which was the first UK trade union to formally support the Repeal the 8th campaign.


Period Poverty


ASLEF's motion on period poverty was composited with a similar motion by the CWU. Bianca Rennie, District 5, gave a speech seconding the motion which was very well received. Following a short debate, the motion was adopted unanimously.


It was also voted by the conference to go forward to TUC Congress in September this year.


As part of ASLEF's support for the campaign to end period poverty, we requested that donations of sanitary products should be collected during the conference. The Women’s Representative Committee made a donation to open the collection.


Mental Health

ASLEF's second motion was on the need for better health support for young women. Statistics show that 1 in 4 young women have a mental illness with emotional problems such as depression and anxiety the most common in England. Nearly half of those late teens with mental health problems had self-harmed or attempted suicide, with almost a quarter of younger teens also reporting self-harm.


Our motion, which was moved by Julie Clegg, District 3, noted the rise in young women self-harming due to a lack of availability of advice and support and called for better provisions and an improvement in the way information and services are provided to young women.


The motion was carried unanimously by conference.


Safety on Trains


Kerry Cassidy, District 7, spoke in a debate on a motion about safety on trains, telling her story of experiencing a fatality on the line as a high speed train driver. She received a standing ovation for her speech and was later asked to give a vote of thanks to close conference.


Trans Engagement


A fringe meeting was held on Thursday lunchtime to discuss trans engagement within union structures. This meeting was a direct result of ASLEF’s motion to women's TUC conference 2018 which called for action to make sure trans women are welcomed within the women's structures of the TUC.


The meeting was very well attended, and a really positive discussion took place around the issues faced by trans women becoming active in their unions.


TUC Women's Committee


Deborah Reay was re-elected to the Women's TUC National Committee which works across the trade union movement all year round to make sure that women are supported to thrive in our movement, and that women’s issues and needs are not forgotten, as well as overseeing the annual conference.


Guide for Women at Work

The women's representative committee have also this week launched their new Women at Work reps guide, with details of many of the types of issues faced specifically by women, and advice and guidance for workplace reps to deal with this issues when they arise.


Watch their video introducing the guide here, and download it in the Library (you’ll need to log in as a member).




Motion: Period Poverty

The trade union movement is beginning to address period poverty and it is encouraging to see a number of affiliates running campaigns highlighting the very real issues many will face if they live in a household impacted by poverty and are prevented from being able to access sanitary wear due to a lack of financial resources. This motion calls on the TUC Women's Committee, and the TUC General Council, to make this issue one of its campaigning priorities until such time as access to sanitary provision becomes free for everyone at point of need.


Conference acknowledges that during a woman's lifetime she will spend £18k on her periods, however for some women the impact of poverty, pay and welfare cuts can mean choosing between food or sanitary wear. Period poverty is real and predominantly affects schoolchildren, homeless women, refugees and asylum seekers.


A Plan International study shows 10% of young women have been unable to afford period products, 12% have had to improvise with toilet paper or socks and over 147,700 have missed school because of period poverty.


It is simply not acceptable that girls are having to miss school because of not being able to afford basic sanitary products when they have their period. Nor is it acceptable for workers to have to suffer the indignity caused by having to use unsuitable and inappropriate non-sanitary wear products when they are doing their job. The CWU has been running its own very successful workplace based campaign on period poverty and we believe the time is right for a more co-ordinated labour movement campaign and action plan to be led by the TUC.


Conference commends the Scottish Government for introducing schemes to offer access to free period products to low income families and in educational institutions. Also the Welsh Government for ring-fencing £1 million for free sanitary products for those most in need. Sadly, there has been no indication for any such moves in the rest of the UK. 


Conference calls on the TUC Women's Committee to:

i. Lobby the government to provide free sanitary wear to low income families, schools, colleges, universities and homeless shelters.

ii. Encourage affiliates to raise the issue of period poverty with memebers asking them to lobby their MPs for policy change.

iii. Champion the work of charities such as the Red Box Project and Bloody Good Period.



Motion: Mental Health in Young Girls

Conference notes the shocking findings of the 2018 Children's Society report revealing nearly 1 in 4 14-year-old girls have self-harmed in the past year.


This trend is mirrored in NHS data, hospital admissions for self-harm in girls aged 18 or under has almost doubled between 1997 and 2017.


Conference acknowledges many reasons contribute to a young person's mental health status including difficult childhood experiences, poverty and discrimination however young girls have additional pressures of body image and gender stereotypes.


Despite increased need there are failings in support, local authorities have scrapped early intervention services, family counselling and school-based programmes.  CAMHS turn away nearly quarter of young people referred and have an average first appointment wait time of 6 months.


Conference welcomes the Autumn budget announcement dedicating an additional £20 billion to mental health support but condemns this will not happen until 2023 and that nothing has been allocated to the overstretched yet underfunded CAMHS teams.


This crisis must be stopped, Conference calls on the TUC Women’s Committee to lobby the government to ensure there is a guaranteed substantial increase to spending on CAMHS and action taken to plug the black hole in support available through youth and community groups.

Back »

By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies. For more information please refer to ASLEF’s Privacy Policy