The equality agenda is at the heart of the trade union movement, and Equality Representatives can play an essential part in building momentum for local action. Today, across Europe and further afield, a rise in far-right organising targeting and scapegoating marginalised groups, necessitates sustained and unified trade union solidarity action.

Currently, Equality Representatives have no statutory rights to time off, training or facility time, unlike their trade union, health and safety and learning representative colleagues. The lack of time greatly impacts the ability for trained Equality Reps to utilise their skills and expertise to take the equality agenda forward.

No time like the present

From an equality perspective, it may seem like there are two polarised forces – progress in one area is sadly sometimes followed by pushback, or even political backsteps on other rights.

For example, on the one hand we are witnessing a rise in reported anti-LGBT hate crime , and on the other – a national commitment to, and requirement for the delivery of LGBT inclusive education. Implementing LGBT inclusive education will make an enormous difference to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other people who are sexuality or gender diverse, and foster a more equal society.

At this time, as trade unionists and educators, we must meet the many challenges in front of us, head on. In Scotland, there are many opportunities available that will further the equality agenda and if we grab them whilst they are ‘live’, our efforts will go a long way in halting the seeping influence of hateful and divisive rhetoric and actions that seek to divide us.

Such an opportunity presents itself through the work ongoing to embed anti-racism in education. The Anti-Racism in Education Programme (AREP) is developing, providing increasing professional learning opportunities such as the Building Racial Literacy Programme, and is working towards a recruitment target to meet the ambition of 4% Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) teachers by 2030.

The current context gives ample weight to the argument for facility time for Equality Representatives, who would then be instrumental in ensuring that national commitments are delivered locally.

Equality Representatives play an important role in keeping equality to the fore within educational establishments and in monitoring the implementation of local strategies to foster more equitable outcomes for all learners and staff.

Valuing your time

A recent survey of Equality Representatives (18 school-based Reps and 7 FELA Reps) found that only eight out of 23 respondents had some kind of local agreement regarding facility time. This includes Equality Representatives who also hold other union roles, and who may undertake some equality related duties during the facility time allocated to this additional role.

“It is very difficult to keep on top of equality emails and advance the equalities agenda in my Local Association, without protected time to do so.”

EIS Equality Representative

Most Equality Representatives who responded found it difficult to quantify the time they spent on their role, highlighting that this often depended on local demand. However, responses suggest that many Equality Representatives, work around 2-3 hours per week on equality matters, in their own time. One Representative explained that they had recently spent 5 hours creating teaching resources for Refugee Week, in order to raise the profile of this work.

What is clear is that Equality Representatives largely carry out their duties in their own time, often in evenings, mornings, and weekends – though some LAs and Branches have locally negotiated agreements to support them with facility time. On top of a workload crisis, educators who are also Equality Representatives are likely to find themselves additionally burdened and this will undoubtedly have an impact.

“Supporting such a large number of members and raising the profile of equality within my LA as well as challenging issues with the management side is very time consuming. It relies on passion and goodwill, but time is needed to do the job effectively. I don’t feel I can currently dedicate enough time to it, or as much as I would like to. Ongoing training would be helpful too as equality issues are ongoing and changeable.”

The time is now

“I would love to take on more work as an Equality Representative, to promote the issues and take fair work forward.”

-EIS Equality Representative

Despite national commitments to equality, tangible change in our everyday lives remain slow to manifest. For national offers and initiatives to be effective, educators and union members need support, tailored advice, professional learning, collegiate discussion and, crucially, time. We need trained experts who can make the case, advise, guide us, and spread the message further afield.

Equality Representatives already provide the union movement and the education sector with invaluable skills, expertise and a burning passion for social justice. The EIS network of Equality Representatives work tirelessly (often in their own time and on top of a weighty workload and personal commitments) to advance the equality agenda and make our workplaces and schools safer, more inclusive, and equitable.

Our Equality Representative Network already make a significant difference to the lives of our members and to the education sector. Imagine what we could achieve together, if we had more time.