UK unions spark debate over high heels at work

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - British unions set off a heated debate across the nation after passing a motion this week demanding that women have the right to wear comfortable shoes in the workplace.

People wait in line to speak with recruiting representatives during a job fair in San Francisco, California, July 20, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists introduced the motion asking employers to work in partnership with trade unions, staff, and local Health and Safety representatives to ensure that proper risk assessments are carried out, and where high heels are deemed a health risk, replaced with comfortable shoes.

That led to a flurry of headlines insisting that the unions were attempting to ban stilettos in the office.

“Women defend right to wear heels as ‘kill joy’ union bosses condemn stilettos in the workplace” wrote the Daily Mail.

The tabloid Sun headline blared: “High Heel Ban Plan Shock” next to a picture of two women in short shorts wearing stilettos.

“We haven’t asked for a ban on stilettos or high heels at all,” podiatrist and society council member Lorraine Jones told Reuters.

She insisted the motion was introduced to give women in certain industries the right to say no to high heels in jobs where they are on their feet for a long time.

“This is a serious issue for women in the workplace, and we at the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists want to ensure women workers are never forced to wear high heels which we believe can lead to foot health problems in the short, medium and long term,” Eddie Saville, director of employment relations said in a statement.

British newspapers reported that Conservative Member of Parliament Nadine Dorries tore into the motion, saying it was intended to cut women like her down to size.

“My job is male-dominated, and the men I work with have killer instincts,” the Times newspaper reported her as saying.

“I am 5ft 3in and need to wear high heels,” she said.

The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists said the motion was prompted by the facts revealed in their surgeries.

Feet bear the brunt of daily life, and for many workers, prolonged standing, badly fitted footwear, and high heels can be a hazard in the workplace, the society said.

Around 2 million days a year are lost through sickness as a result of lower limb disorders. In Britain’s National Health Service, millions are spent on foot operations a year.

Wearing high heels can cause long term foot problems, such as blisters corns and callus, to serious foot, knee and back pain, and damaged joints, the society said.