United, We Publish: Sarah Cook interview

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In the run up to October’s event, United, We Publish, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions on UNITE-focused topics such as training, pay, employment law and flexible working. Sarah Cook has been a Unite officer for 22 years. She has extensive experience of dealing with employment issues including advising and representing individuals and workplace trade union groups, training and developing local workplace representatives, leading campaigns on employment issues and on wider issues in the region.

1) As one of the workshop leaders at United, We Publish – why do you think this is a good moment to raise awareness of the work of Unite within the publishing industry?

Because, like many other sectors, there are major changes going on in the industry which will impact upon job security, pay terms and conditions.  There have been consolidations within the industry and an increase in the globalisation of many companies in the sector.  The rapid development of new technology is also having an impact on the sector.  Also because often people at work put up with being treated poorly by employers and need to know what they can do about it and the about the benefits of organising collectively.

2) You have been a Unite officer for 22 years. During this time, how have you seen the work of Unite be beneficial to individuals, either personally or collectively, within the publishing industry?

Whenever there is organisational change employees benefit from the collective voice and support of a trade union. If you are treated badly at work or discriminated against then the union can advise and represent you and, if necessary, take a legal case forward on your behalf. I have seen members win compensation for injuries or illness caused by work. Research shows that employees in unionised workplaces have better pay, terms and conditions and better health and safety at work. Working collectively through the union we have seen employees gain good pay awards, negotiate pay structures, redundancies and deal with any transfer of undertakings. Doing any of this on your own is isolating and difficult. Being in the union means someone has your back and you work collectively to help all the employees improve their work situations. I would love to be able to say that over 22 years things have improved for workers but I think that is not the situation and many of the gains have been lost and the pressure on companies and their focus on the bottom line means increased pressure to do more often with less and this impacts negatively on employees.

3) Part of your role is to lead campaigns on employment issues. What topics are most frequently covered?

Bullying and harassment; race and sex discrimination – particularly discriminatory action related to pregnancy or taking maternity leave and other forms of discrimination; negotiating on pay, pay structures and job evaluation; dealing with health and safety issues in the workplace; reorganisation and restructuring that can lead to redundancies; and also TUPE transfers.

4) How does representing workers in the publishing industry differ from other sectors that you work with?

This depends very much on the sector. I do a lot of work within the health sector where we have national bargaining on terms and conditions but there are constant service reorganisations that seem to always result in job losses or down banding. Bullying and harassment seems to be a major issue in every sector. I deal with a number of individuals working across lots of different sectors but discrimination in relation to gender and race is still very common, as well as in regard to religion, age and sexuality. With some sectors, we spend a lot more time working collectively, in others there are greater numbers of individuals working in less well organised or completely unorganised workplaces and needing individual support. In some sectors we can recruit reps very easily and in others it is much harder – the union at the end of the day is its members and its representatives. However, there is a very positive tradition of trade union organisation in the GPM sector generally and we seem to get a lot of keen, innovative reps in this sector.

5) Without giving too much away, what might you be talking about at United, We Publish?

It is astonishing how many people are not aware of their basic legal rights at work and how to ensure that their contractual terms and conditions are protected.  The workshop is intended to cover just what those rights are and how workers can collectively improve them and ensure that on a day-to-day basis they are not ignored.

– Join us  for ‘United, We Publish‘ in London on the 27th October.

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