Menopause matters

Thanks to the efforts of trade unions, awareness and support for workers with menopause has been growing and, on International Women’s Day last month new good practice guidance was issued for staff in the NHS in England

Menopause matters

Menopause, a long hidden issue, is starting to come out of the shadows. In, the NHS, it was the Wales NHS Social Partnership Forum, comprising health unions, including the CSP and employers, that blazed a trail, launching last year a policy to support staff with menopause. Now the NHS in England has followed suite in a move strongly welcomed by the CSP. The new guidance was produced by the NHS Health, Safety and Wellbeing Partnership Group, a sub-group of the NHS Staff Council.

Despite the progress, the CSP recognises there is still much to do to tackle the taboo around menopause in many workplaces, where often women do not feel able to talk about the menopause at all. A Wales TUC survey found eight in 10 women experienced noticeable symptoms; of these, 45 per cent found their symptoms hard to deal with.

Many reported that workplace environments and practices can make symptoms worse.

Speaking at the TUC Women’s conference in March, CSP employment committee chair Jill Taylor said: ‘Although it is rarely discussed at work, the menopause is a natural stage of life that millions of women workers are either going through now, or will experience in the future. Millions more are going through the perimenopause, or menopause transition. Menopause is not just a workplace issue for a small minority but for half of the workforce and it also has an impact on the working lives of our male colleagues, who we work alongside, that is often not recognised.

Ms Taylor was presenting a motion calling on all unions to raise menopause with employers so that they are aware of their responsibilities to ensure that the working environment will not make their symptoms worse. She told delegates: ‘Despite the fact that half of the workforce, will at some point, have these symptoms they are often trivialised or treated as embarrassing by managers and colleagues. For too long, talking about the menopause has been taboo, or something to joke about, whether that’s about hot flushes or mood swings. Even worse there are often whispers about the competence of menopausal women. This has to stop!’

‘Employers have been slow to recognise that women of menopausal age may need support, and for too long it has simply been seen as a private matter. This means many women feel they have to hide their symptoms and will be less likely to ask for the adjustments that may help them. A lack of policies and supportive procedures means that women are worried about being absent from work due to symptoms.’

‘These concerns and fears are well founded,’ added Jill, pointing to a 2014 survey carried out by the teaching union NUT that revealed that 13 per cent of respondents had experienced, or heard of colleagues facing capability procedures as a result of menopause symptoms, which could potentially lead to them being dismissed on grounds of capability.’

At the TUC Women’s Conference the CSP also secured support from delegates for TUC assistance in helping unions to ‘develop gender-sensitive risk assessments identifying men and women’s differing risks and proposing control measures giving effective solutions for all negotiate menopause workplace policies and training, ensuring women are centred in the development, introduction and monitoring of their effectiveness’. 

Legal changes needed to stop pregnancy and maternity discrimination

The CSP secured support from other unions in a call for legislation to help tackle ‘continued widespread pregnancy and maternity discrimination in our workplaces’. 

The CSP motion to the TUC Women’s conference proposes a law requiring employers to publish retention rates of women from when they announce they are pregnant for up to two years and for flexible work as a day one right.

Delegates heard that 54,000 women a year are forced out of work due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination and an estimated 390,000 mothers annually report experiencing discrimination or disadvantage as a result of pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or upon return from maternity leave. 

Research shows implementing more family-friendly flexible working policies and practices can help, the CSP argued. 

Women trade unionists from the private and public sector also backed the CSP’s demand for a campaign for reforms to parental leave so that parents are able to share caring responsibilities equally. 

CSP steward Heidi Rolfe told delegates: ‘Radical reform of our current system of maternity, paternity and parental leave is desperately needed.’

Describing the current system introduced five years ago as a ‘chronic failure’, Ms Rolfe said parental leave must protect the rights and entitlements of mothers while enhancing those of fathers to encourage and support more equal parenting.

‘Crucially, all leave must be paid at a decent and equitable level: the current flat rate of statutory pay is just £148.68 per week – try living on that with a baby.’

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