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Making equalities work? Scottish trade unions’ approaches to equal opportunities

Lindsay, Colin and Munro, Anne and Wise, Sarah (2007) Making equalities work? Scottish trade unions’ approaches to equal opportunities. Equal Opportunities International, 26 (5). pp. 465-481. ISSN 0261-0159

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Purpose – This paper seeks to analyse trade unions’ approaches to equal opportunities in Scotland, focusing on issues of: recruitment of membership from different groups; promoting diversity in post-holding; and the role of “key equalities issues” in collective bargaining. Design/methodology/approach – The paper draws on in-depth interviews with equalities officers of 26 unions in Scotland. The analysis takes as its starting point the three models of equality policies identified by Rees: the “sameness”, “difference” and “transformation” models. Findings – The paper argues that, although some equalities officers demonstrated a thorough understanding of the issues, union approaches to equalities in practice reflect the “sameness”, and to some extent “difference”, models: attacking direct discrimination and insisting that members should be treated the same, establishing some limited mechanisms to reflect on the different needs of groups, but being less able to tackle the underlying structural causes of inequality. It is suggested that unions need to develop a more sophisticated analysis of equal opportunities which fully reflects the differences between the experiences of groups of workers and which challenges the fundamental, structural inequalities within (and therefore seeks to transform) organisations and labour markets. A key element of this agenda must be the mainstreaming of equal opportunities within collective bargaining. Research limitations/implications – Further research is required on how unions are beginning to deal with the issues raised in the paper. The paper is also limited to the views of individual equalities officers – further research on local practice is required. Practical implications – The findings will be of interest to organisations engaged in equalities work and unions seeking to develop policy and practice in this area. Originality/value – The paper will add to the literature on unions’ approaches to equalities. It applies the Rees model to extensive new data, and is the first major piece of research to address these issues within the Scottish policy context.