LRD Booklets November 2020

Tackling racism and inequality - a trade union guide

Further Information


[pages 3-4]

The dramatic events of 2020 have brought a new awareness to many of the wide-ranging racial inequalities in our society. The global coverage of the US police killing of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 and the widespread Black Lives Matter protests, together with the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the UK’s ethnic minorities, has brought these inequalities to the fore in a way not seen since the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence more than two decades ago.

On the positive side, these events have given an unexpected spur in some quarters to act to tackle racial inequality in the workplace, with a number of employers — particularly large ones — starting to face up to their obligations in this area.

For example, as Sandra Kerr, race director of the Business in The Community charity, told a TUC meeting in September 2020, in the four months since the George Floyd killing, 170 new employers had signed the charity’s Race at Work charter which commits them to a range of actions to tackle both racism and racial inequalities in their workplaces.

However, there is a very long way to go. Reports into the lived experiences of individuals from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds reveal they are still frequently on the receiving end of racial harassment and abuse, and it is clear from evidence that the fingers of race discrimination reach into every single aspect of employment.

BAME workers are disproportionately concentrated in low-paying and vulnerable employment and many ethnic minority groups face substantial pay gaps compared with their white counterparts. They are likely to face more barriers to career progression, and often face higher than average rates of disciplinary action or redundancy. The Covid pandemic has highlighted many areas of unfairness, with BAME staff being more likely to work in — or be placed in — areas of high infection risk.

While Britain has a comprehensive framework of legislation designed to combat race discrimination and foster equality at work, much more practical action is needed in the country’s workplaces to bring us anywhere near true equality.

Unions at all levels have a role in this, and the TUC has launched a new initiative in this area. In September 2020, it launched an antiracism task force to investigate the systemic race discrimination led by Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union. The group will engage with BAME workers about the everyday racism they experience at work. The task force will then develop an action plan for change across UK workplaces, and within unions themselves.

But union reps do not need to wait for this. There is plenty they can do now — and that many are already doing — to help combat racism and improve equality in the workplace. This booklet provides information, guidance and real-life examples of actions that can be taken, including using their collective power to get employers to adopt positive policies and actions to promote racial equality. Union reps are also in a good position to foster inclusiveness in workplaces, and to help ensure workers from BAME backgrounds are not left vulnerable to racism — or indeed to Covid-19.

Note about terminology

There are many views about the best terminology to collectively describe groups of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and unions adopt varying terms. This booklet largely uses the acronym BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) when referring to all non-white ethnic groups combined, apart from when quoting from a source which uses other terminology.