For a Neurodivergent voice in our unions

Between Monday 15th and Sunday 21st March, it is Neurodiversity Week. Neurodiversity includes a number of conditions such as Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome.

Many of these conditions were never recognised until long after the Disability Discrimination Act became law. There were no Reasonable Adjustments at work to accommodate these conditions. However, Reasonable Adjustments are not enough to ensure the well being of Neurodivergent employees. It is important that society has a more basic understanding of such needs.

In order to provide more detail, Autism is a lifelong developmental disability in reference to extreme difficulty with social communication, interaction, imagination and the ability to learn. Asperger Syndrome is a milder form of autism that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people.

As a child, socialising did not come, naturally, to me. Instead, I had to learn it. Obsessive Compulsory Disorder is where people feel the need to check matters and perform certain routines in the most repeated fashion, and have certain thoughts, repeatedly, called obsessions. Attention Deficit Disorder is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Dyslexia is a lifelong problem with reading, writing and spelling but does not mean that one’s intelligence is affected. Dyspraxia affects physical coordination causing one to perform less well than expected in daily activities and appear to move, clumsily.

Although there are generic Reasonable Adjustments under TUC guidance for all the different types of Neurodivergent employees, each individual has different needs. It is important for a Neurodivergent worker to meet one’s manager on the first day at work and agree personal Reasonable Adjustments before seeking guidance from the occupational health reports. In addition, it is vital that a Disability Workplace Adjustment Passports are agreed in order to avoid the stress of undergoing occupational health referrals all over again.

I was diagnosed with Quasi – Autism at the age of 4, but it was still severe. Autism had a more brutal meaning because any diagnosis that was more serious would result in a child to place in a special care home. It was not until 1994, that Hans Asperger’s paper on the milder forms of Autism was recognised of which had been put on the shelf for the last 50 years. When I was diagnosed, my family were informed that I was unfit for mainstream society or “normal” as it was called in those days. Sadly, they had to battle to ensure that I was in mainstream education.

I was, first, employed by the Civil Service in 1991. There were no Reasonable Adjustments at work to accommodate my Neurological disability, which impacted on my ability to work and learn to an acceptable standard. Therefore, I was dismissed in 1992, 3 years before the Disability Discrimination Act was passed. I received little support from welfare, and was informed that I was not up to the standard of performance. The only people who helped me to win my job back, was this Civil Service Trade Union, formerly, known as the Civil Public Services Association. As a result, I became very active in this Trade Union and have, now, been a member of PCS Left Unity for 20 years since January 2021.

Unfortunately, I have been one of the very few active Autistic and Neurodivergent Trade Union Representatives. Due to the prejudiced society that I lived in, I kept my Autism a secret. It was owing to John McDonnell of whom I worked within the Labour Representation Committee, who encouraged me to come out in the open. Despite the fact that I had spoken at many conferences on motions and topics, I did not have the courage to, publicly, declared my Autism. Then, finally, I made the first declaration at the Labour Representation Committee Conference in November 2013. Afterwards, I declared it further at the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference in 2014 and on social media. By 2016, I made the first public speech on my Autism at PCS Conference. As a result, a motion on Neurodiversity was carried and it has been a popular course within PCS.

Nevertheless, we need to strive to encourage more Neurodivergent Representatives in PCS and within the workplace. We are planning to hold an event early, this year for all Neurodivergent members. Hopefully, it will be a boost as we need to tackle the appalling employment rate of Neurodivergent people. Despite all the discrimination that I endured at work, I am representing many members in personal cases up to employment tribunal, elected to the PCS Ministry of Justice Group Executive Committee and have been on the PCS National Executive Committee for 2 years. We need to encourage more Neurodivergent people to be Trade Union Representatives at senior level.

A vote for Left Unity in the Democracy Alliance is a vote for a Neurodivergent Voice in PCS and the Trade Union movement! We have been the most successful political faction on promoting Neurodiversity! Neurodivergent Rights and Human Rights!

Austin Harney

Austin is standing for the NEC as part of the Democracy Alliance. Click on the image below for more information.