Neurodiversity — a trade union issue
To mark World Autism Month, we took a look at how our Union can ensure that workplaces are more inclusive and supportive of neurodivergent workers.
The term ‘neurodiversity’ is a non-medical umbrella term used to describe conditions such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and ADHD. ‘Neurodiversity’ is used also as a term to describe an aspect of emerging trade union equality, diversity and inclusion campaigning that focuses on workers who are neurodivergent.
Neurodiversity in the workplace is the acceptance that there are natural and normal variations in the way that people think and process information; and that different cognitive profiles can present both strengths and challenges in the workplace depending on the environment in which people work.
According to consultancy and auditing firm Deloitte, between 10% and 20% of the population is neurodivergent. The World Economic Forum accepts these figures. For us, that would equate to thousands of SIPTU members and in the region of 80,000 members of Irish trade unions who are neurodivergent.
We all have loved ones, family members colleagues neighbours and union comrades who are neurodivergent. Many people reading this article are neurodivergent. Many more are the parents or family members of people who are neurodivergent.
The time has come for SIPTU to give voice to the challenges that these workers face and to advocate on their behalf in the workplace.
Let’s look at the current situation regarding neurodiversity in the workplace in Ireland.
Employment law precedents are emerging on neurodiversity over recent years.
For example, adjudications from the Workplace Relations Commission have found that autism and dyspraxia constitute a disability within the meaning of the Employment Equality Act.
Section 16 of the Act requires employers, where their employee has a disability, to provide reasonable accommodation by way of undertaking appropriate measures to support that employee in performing their duties if that employee would be fully competent and capable of performing their required duties with the benefit of that reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodations provided to an employee with a disability should enable that employee to access, participate or advance in employment or undergo training.
Reasonable accommodations that may be necessary for neurodivergent workers will likely differ in each case depending on the specific needs of the worker.
Examples might include but are certainly not limited to the following: adapting the premises, workstation or equipment; adapting the employee’s work pattern; providing access to a quiet space or a sensory room; providing access to a work environment free from fluorescent lighting or strong odours.
It is crucial that neurodivergent workers themselves are involved in putting in place suitable accommodations and that the workers in question have an opportunity to refuse an accommodation if they do not deem it suitable.
As with all workplace issues, the benefit of being a SIPTU member is the opportunity to have issues resolved through discussion and representation in the workplace. Most neurodivergent members experiencing issues, up to and including discrimination, will have their issues addressed and resolved by their Union swiftly and expertly in the workplace.
If it is not possible to reach a resolution with the employer, by way of collective bargaining or individual representation, neurodivergent members have recourse to expert representation by their Union at third parties.
The Pharmaceutical, Chemicals and Medical Devices Sector is currently leading the charge within SIPTU on behalf of neurodiverse members. In response to demand from members, the Sector is addressing issues at workplace level.
Organising and Membership Development is supporting the Sector and has developed a template ‘Neurodiversity Workplace Policy’ for SIPTU-organised workplaces. We encourage Shop Stewards to collectively bargain worker-focused neurodiversity policies with their employers.
The article was written by Deputy General Secretary Ethel Buckley and originally appeared n Liberty Newspaper