I don’t know if anyone even noticed, but there’s been a distinct silence emanating from the Elliott/Mswoman keyboard over the last week. That’s because, while you lot were all gadding about enjoying the lovely summer sunshine, I was ensconced in the Brighton Centre, attending Unison’s annual Local Government and National Delegate Conferences (NDC).

On the few trips I made into the fresh air over the 7 days I was there, I could actually see the beach and smell the sea, but nerdy trade union activist that I am, the closest I managed to get to enjoying any of it was lunchtime on the last day, when me and a group of friends ventured across the road and had some al fresco sandwiches. (by had some sandwiches, in my case, I mean bought and sat them in front of me, but thanks to the hangover from hell that’s as far as things went)

Now obviously the week wasn’t all about work. Conference finished at 5pm everyday, and once the fringe meetings and regional meetings had been sat through, my evenings were mine to do with as I wished. I did think about going back to my hotel and plugging in the laptop, logging on to t’Internet and catching up with the world, but it was only a passing thought, especially when the alternative was going out eating and drinking (and ohhh, how we drank!) with friends. Naturally I chose the latter, hence the eerie calm, and the peace and quiet on the Intertubes.

But now I’m back.

I’m not going to go into any great detail about NDC: for those who are interested there’s official coverage of it here, (including a write up of a motion I had the privilege of moving on behalf of Unison’s National Women’s Conference [not National Women’s Committee as the write up suggests]) and some great unofficial coverage of it here, here, and hopefully soon if someone pulls their finger out, over here. But I will just run through a couple of what for me were some highlights of the week.

First off was Dave Prentis’s speech to conference, where he called on the union’s labour link to suspend all constituency development payments and ensure that the union only promotes and supports prospective labour candidates who are willing to stand up for the values of public service. And about bloody time too!

Another highlight for me was co-chairing the best attended women’s caucus meeting we’ve ever had at NDC, with close to a hundred women packing out the meeting room we’d booked for the Tuesday lunchtime.

And lastly was winning the vote on an issue that provoked some quite heated debate both at the women’s caucus and in and around the conference centre over the days that followed it. A vote that we hadn’t expected to win, that we’d more or less resigned ourselves to losing, and that proved that, in the words of the National Women’s Officer: “We rock!”

But it’s an issue that I don’t think is going to go away, and one I’d really welcome other people’s views on….

Basically, there was a motion to conference about domestic violence, which we (by which I mean those of us representing National Women’s Conference, the National Women’s Committee chair, and others) fully supported, but which one of the Scottish branches had submitted an amendment to that added this to a paragraph about supporting victims of dv in the workplace:

“This should include measures to assist employees who are experiencing domestic abuse/violence and protect them from being victimised by harsh sickness absence policies but must also include methods of allowing employees who are perpetrators of domestic abuse/violence time off work to address their behaviour through the appropriate agencies.”

I spoke against this amendment, arguing that it was not the union’s job, or the job of Unison activists, to be negotiating on behalf of perpetrators. I made the point that domestic violence is a crime, and that as Unison does not negotiate time off for the perpetrators of other crimes, we should not be making an exception in this case. Also what message does it give to victims, when they see their union advocating on behalf of their abusers? Zero tolerance of domestic violence should mean zero tolerance, and that includes zero tolerance towards the perpetrators of domestic violence.

As I said, we won the vote, but I understand that the men on the left of the union voted in favour of the amendment, alleging that we were using moral arguments and not dealing with things practically. I was also approached afterwards by a few people who said they were uneasy with the stance we’d taken.

On the other hand I was also approached by a male activist who told me a horrific story about the violence his wife had suffered in a previous marriage, and who said that there was no way as a union rep he’d ever be prepared to represent the kind of bastard who could treat a woman like that. I also spoke to people who said they had a near impossible task getting their employers to agree time off for victims of domestic violence, and who thought it would be wholly unfair for any emphasis to be put on negotiating time off for perpetrators.

One argument that I heard more than once and that pissed me off completely, was about how some Unison branches do negotiate time off so that people can attend programmes around drug and alcohol addiction: if they can negotiate time off for addicts, the mantra went, why shouldn’t they also negotiate time off for serial abusers?

Can someone please explain to me how that is even remotely relevant? How being addicted to alcohol (which last time I looked wasn’t actually a crime) is in any way comparable to being a wife beater?

But what do others think? Should trade unions be helping offenders address their behaviour by arranging time off during the working day so that they can attend perpetrator programmes? And do those programmes even work?