Earlier this year, NAS campaigner David Nicholson had a very positive meeting with Terry Anderson from the Scottish Trade Union Congress. Here's what he had to say about it:
This summer, I was accompanied by Robert MacBean, the NAS Policy and Parliamentary Officer in Scotland, to a meeting with Terry Anderson from the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) in Edinburgh.
The meeting came about after I did a dissertation on the issue of autism and employment. The research looked at possible ways of how we could get more people with autism into employment and retain that employment. One of these ways was getting the trade union movement involved in helping get people with autism into the workplace. Therefore it was decided that meeting someone from the STUC would be the best way to seeing what, if anything, the trade union movement could do to help and if there were anything that they were doing presently which was helping people with autism get into work.
Terry was keen to listen to the points that Robert and myself put across on the issue under discussion. I emphasised the fact that only 15% of people with Autism were in any kind of employment, either full-time or part-time. I was also keen to stress to Terry that people with Autism often faced bullying within the workplace from fellow colleagues as well as the employers themselves. I stressed that this was down to a lack of awareness of the condition and that perhaps there could be a role for the trade unions in helping ensure that employers and employees were made aware of autism.
Terry understood my concern and highlighted that employees within the workplace could get support or assistance from the union if they were getting bullied by fellow workers or their bosses. If they weren’t in a union, then what happened was that they could phone up for assistance but this only lasted for a period of a year or so before that helped ceased. If the employee wanted to receive further help after that period then they had to join the relevant union for example Unite, GMB or Unison amongst others.
Terry also said that he was aware of the union helping a few people with autism out when it came to employment tribunal hearings but I was glad to hear that these were rare occurances and that often things were settled before they reached the tribunal stage
Terry made one point which really excited me that perhaps in order to ensure that the workplace becomes a more autism friendly place that employees with autism (who were in a union) could become union reps (shop stewards) so that they could then help fellow employees with autism but to also help make employees and employers understand autism more. I think this is an idea which has got potential and I would certainly give serious consideration to becoming a union rep if I were to find work.
Robert also informed Terry of the on-going campaign being run by the NAS entitled The Undiscovered Workforce and I hope that the STUC can play a role within that campaign. Before the meeting ended Terry stated that there was an STUC Disabled Workers Committee which also held an annual conference and he recommended that this was perhaps another channel that both Robert and myself could explore further.
Overall, it was a very positive meeting and I look forward, along with Robert, to having further dialogue with the STUC in the near future.