LRD Booklets March 2017

Promoting race equality at work - a union rep's guide

[pages 3-4]


Despite more than five decades of race equality legislation, the largest ever review into race inequality in Great Britain concluded in 2015 that “stark inequalities remain”.

The 2015 report, Healing a divided Britain: the need for a comprehensive race equality strategy, carried out by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, provided “an alarming picture of the challenges to equality of opportunity that still remain in modern 21st century Britain,” according to the commission’s chair David Isaac.

The report said that, while the picture of race equality has changed over the last 10 years, “fundamental issues, including persistent disparities in employment and over-representation of ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system show that structural injustices, discrimination and racism continue to be part of our society today”.

For many years, trade unions have been important in developing policies and practices to improve race equality at work and combat racist harassment and abuse.

TUC-affiliated unions have made formal commitments to promote equality for all and to eliminate all forms of harassment, prejudice and unfair discrimination in all their activities. In terms of action for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers, this has resulted in policies and collective agreements on topics ranging from monitoring BAME workers’ access to employment, training and promotion opportunities to pushing for bans on the employment of members of far-right organisations.

However, inequalities in the world of work persist. BAME people are more likely to be unemployed than white people and less likely to be employed in good, permanent jobs. They are often also subject to racist abuse and harassment, which was brought into sharp focus during and after the EU referendum of June 2016.

While Britain has a comprehensive framework of legislation designed to combat race discrimination and foster equality at work, this has been dramatically undermined in recent years by the Conservative government’s attack on people’s ability to make use of it.

The introduction of prohibitive fees for taking cases to the employment tribunal in July 2013 led to a massive 78% drop in the number of claims just a year later. And a review of the introduction of fees published by the Ministry of Justice in January 2017 revealed that the financial impact of the fees was greater for people from BAME backgrounds, who are more likely than white people to bring claims.

Because of this it is now more important than ever for union reps to take up the issues collectively in the workplace to ensure people from BAME backgrounds are not left vulnerable and isolated, and to get employers to adopt progressive policies to improve equality and diversity at work.

This booklet provides information and guidance to help union reps address these topics in the workplace, including:

• creating an inclusive workplace;

• being up to date on important law in this area;

• negotiating agreements to reduce inequality and promote diversity;

• combating racial harassment, bullying and abuse; and

• making sure BAME staff are members of, and active in, the union.

How many British people are from BAME backgrounds?

Overall, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people constituted 14% of the population of England and Wales in 2011, according to the last population census, while in Scotland the proportion is 5%.

The largest BAME group in England and Wales is Asian/Asian British, comprising 7.5% of the population, followed by Black/African/Caribbean/Black British (3.3%), Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups (2.2%) and other ethnic groups (1.0%).

In Scotland the breakdown according to the 2011 Scottish census was: Asian (3%); African, Caribbean or Black (1%); Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups (0.4%); and other ethnic groups (0.3%).