Abortion debate: views of over 3,000 trade unionists reflected in new report

Thursday 19 October 2017, 11am

Abortion as a Workplace Issue published today
 
A ground-breaking report into trade unionists’ attitudes to abortion throughout Ireland, North and South, was launched this morning.  Abortion as a Workplace Issue is based on a quantitative and qualitative survey commissioned by trade unions Unite, Unison, Mandate, CWU and GMB, as well as Alliance for Choice (Northern Ireland) and the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment (Republic of Ireland).  The research was conducted by Ulster University and analyses responses from over 3,000 trade union members.
 
Introducing the report and speaking on behalf of the research team at this morning’s press conference, lead researcher Dr Fiona Bloomer of Ulster University pointed out that the study is the first of its kind to consider trade union member views on abortion issues in Ireland North and South, and she added:
 
“We believe this is also the first study to consider the specific matter of abortion as a workplace issue in the English speaking world.  The study captured a range of views on abortion, and is reflective of the wider public debates on abortion. 
 
“This is a very wide-ranging survey and report, but I would like to highlight two particular findings: 80% agreed women’s health should be the priority in any reform of the abortion law, and 597 respondents, or 20%, stated they had direct experience of abortion as a workplace issue. Not only does Abortion as a Workplace Issue quantify support among trade union members for legal reform, but it also provides a valuable insight into the perspectives of those with direct experience of abortion as a workplace issue”.
 
Unite Regional Women’s and Equalities Officer Taryn Trainor recalled the origins of the research, noting that:
 
“During an interview with Amnesty International a couple of years ago about trade unionists’ perspectives on abortion, I realised we didn’t have any empirical evidence.  Thanks to this report commissioned by Unite, Unison, Mandate, the CWU and GMB, and supported by Alliance for Choice and the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th, we now have quantitative and qualitative evidence to show that abortion is a workplace issue affecting women workers and their families throughout the island of Ireland. 
 
As trade unions, we ensure that workers facing a range of issues are represented and supported in the workplace.  Women facing a crisis pregnancy and all the healthcare issues involved deserve the same representation and support – and this report, based on responses from over 3,000 union members, tells us why”.
 
GMB Regional Organiser Denise Walker said that her union welcomed the release of this important research and pointed out that:
 
“This report demonstrates that our members overwhelmingly support reform of abortion legislation on both sides of the border. 
 
It is clear from the research that this is a matter for trade unions and we must move forward to ensure that this subject is firmly on the trade union agenda, both in terms of campaigning for reform but also in the arena of workplace negotiations. The trade union movement must provide the space for dialogue and help to bring an end to the stigma of abortion. 
 
CWU General Secretary Steve Fitzpatrick said:
 
“Trade Unions strive to be at the fore when addressing the welfare of our members and this applies to a range of issues. The voices of over 3,000 trade unionists are part of this all island report. The findings are significant for a variety of reasons, not least because they provide evidence that abortion is indeed a workplace and a trade union issue”.
 
John Douglas, General Secretary of Mandate Trade Union, said:
 
“The report clearly indicates, in particular, that young trade union members across the island of Ireland support access to abortion for women in a variety of circumstances. Whether it’s, ‘when the pregnancy is the result of rape’, ‘when a woman’s health is at risk’ or ‘when a woman asks for an abortion’, young people in greater numbers than other generations believe access should be afforded to women.
 
“This is significant because these are the women who have to live with restrictive access to abortions now and in the future, and they’re also the generation who have never had an opportunity to have a say on this issue in the Republic of Ireland because the last referendum was 35 years ago.”
 
Emma Gallen, speaking on behalf of Alliance for Choice, highlighted the role of trade unions as the largest civil society group on the island:
 
"This piece of research was originally conceived to understand the specific workplace needs and stigmas facing abortion seekers. 
 
Alliance for Choice have done a lot of work, training, education and workshops with Trade Unions and this deeper engagement with the unions involved was the next step. We are delighted that the findings echo those of the Citizen's Assembly, i.e. that when ordinary people have access to the lived experiences of abortion seekers and have a chance to fully engage on the issue then we see that they understand the need for a change in the laws as they stand, North and South as well as specific workplace support. With the current changes happening in both jurisdictions in regard to abortion access and the law, we recognise the important role trade unions have to play as the largest civil society group on the island."
 
Mandy La Combre represented the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment and said:
 
“The Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment is pleased to have played a part in producing the pioneering report Abortion as a Workplace Issue.  For the first time, unions have direct access to members’ experience of abortion as a workplace issue: lack of money; unable to afford or get time off; fear of being ‘found out’; fear of seeking follow-up treatment. 
 
Of those surveyed across five unions, north and south, 87% oppose the criminalisation of women who have abortions. A clear majority of women, men and trans respondents of all religions and none want legislative change to abortion regimes on the island of Ireland.  Of particular importance for trade unions and all activists facing into a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment in the new year is the fact that talking openly about abortion in a safe context caused respondents to reflect on – and sometimes alter – their own position on the issue”.
 
Concluding the press conference, Anne Speed, Head of Bargaining and Representation for UNISON across Northern Ireland, said
 
"Responses in this survey tell us that denying women choice impacts on their lives in the workplace. There are important messages we must heed.  Feedback in this survey offers a strong mandate to unions both North and South to back legal reform to remove bans on abortion and support the growing calls from health care professionals that the health and wellbeing of living women must be paramount. Most of all, it confirms that sitting on the fence on women's reproductive rights is no longer a credible option”, Ms Speed concluded.
 
A copy of Abortion as a Workplace Issue is available for download here

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