Many UK Women Lack Toilet Access At Work & Here's Why That's A Major Problem

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Your boss limits your toilet breaks. The bathroom facilities at work are insufficient, or don't exist at all. You've struggled to manage your period while you're on the clock. Any of those scenarios sound familiar? You could be one of tens of thousands of workers in the UK who are denied "toilet dignity," workers union Unite said. In particular, many UK women lack toilet access at work, and people who menstruate are especially impacted by inadequate facilities or restricted access to them. As a result, Unite called on employers to rectify the issue, as the Guardian reports, highlighting the embarrassment and health risks faced by affected workers.

Unite launched its "toilet dignity" campaign on Nov. 19 in order to coincide with World Toilet Day, an event launched to draw attention to the 4.5 billion people worldwide who don't have access to a safe toilet. According to Unite, major UK industries denying their employees proper access to toilets include banking, construction, agriculture, bus driving, finance, lorry driving, and warehousing.

The union cited examples such as bank workers being forced to urinate in buckets, the women's toilet being locked and used for storage on a construction site, and call centre workers being required to log in and out for toilet breaks. One worker was told to subtract the time taken to go to the toilet from their allocated lunch break, Unite said, while a bank worker with major health issues was told the only available toilet was in a nearby shop, one they couldn't access in time.

Those who menstruate are particularly afflicted, Unite said; in September, the union launched a campaign for "period dignity," arguing that employers should provide sanitary products, and change attitudes to menstruation in the workplace. "That time of the month can be inconvenient and embarrassing for women and girls. It shouldn’t be," said Unite regional officer Suzanne Reid. "Unite believes that by changing perceptions we can tackle some of the wider issues around periods."

"We want access to sanitary products in the workplace and schools to be as normal as having access to things such as toilet roll," she continued.

Significant health risks are associated with an inability to use the toilet, Unite said, including bladder damage and urinary tract infections. In a statement, assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said, "It is simply disgraceful that in 2018 tens of thousands of UK workers are denied toilet dignity at work." She added, "The examples that Unite has revealed are simply staggering and it is clearly deeply humiliating for the workers who are being denied toilet dignity."

Unite, Cartmail said, will campaign for the prosecution of employers who fail to provide adequate toilet access to their staff. "Employers have got absolutely no excuse for ensuring toilet dignity and if they fail to do so they should be prosecuted by the HSE [Health and Safety Executive]," she said.

"Unite will not be passive on this issue, if workers are denied toilet dignity we will name and shame the guilty parties."