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5 ways to combat racism in the workplace

Published date
Due to the rise of racism since the EU referendum, the TUC is calling on the government to take real and immediate action to make our communities safer and more respectful for everyone.

We’ve published an action plan with the practical steps we need to challenge racism and released guidance for union reps and activists to tackle racism in the workplace.

Since the results of the EU referendum, there has been an alarming rise in reported hate crimes across the UK. Just three days after the results were announced there was a 57% rise in hate crimes. Within a month there have been more than 6,000 reports of hate crime to police and it doesn’t stop there. Hate speech is often followed onto social media, which can go unreported. From the period 24 June to 1 July there have been 13,000 tweets identified with xenophobic or anti-immigration attitudes in the UK.

Racial and religious violence, harassment and abuse don’t only take place online or on the streets, often they find their way into the workplace. According to research from the Health and Safety Executive, there were over half a million incidents of work related violence in 2014/15. This includes being assaulted or spat on or being threatened with violence.

Throughout history trade unions have played an integral role in combating racism and fascism. Here are 5 ways to help you make your workplace a safer environment for everyone.

  1. Review existing policies

Employers must make sure that all workers have a right to work in a safe space, without the fear of discrimination, harassment or abuse. While many do already have policies to counter racism and hate, they may have been in place for some time and could need a review.

Every union has a policy in dealing with discrimination and harassment at work targeting migrant or BME workers. Check your union’s policies and guidance, and what activities other organisations are carrying out that could be useful to your workplace.

  1. Promote zero-tolerance

Work with your employer to make it clear that there will be zero tolerance in the workplace on any form of racism or harassment whether from visitors, customers, clients or employees.

  1. Get everyone trained

All union reps should receive training on how to support members who may be victims of abuse and how to represent them. This should include emotional support, methods in monitoring and reporting incidents. There are many courses run by trade unions and the TUC to help you with this.

All staff should be trained and supported on how to deal with any abuse they come across, whether within the workplace or from outside if it is directed at a worker. It must be made clear that any discriminatory comments are unacceptable including ones that can be disguised as ‘banter’. All workers should be made aware and introduced to any reviewed policies on bullying, harassment and racism.

  1. Support affected staff and review procedures

It’s vital that employers have robust procedures in place that everybody is aware of for reporting racist or abusive incidents. Review what support is already in place and for workers who may come forward. Employers should make clear that they will support employees if they want to report an incident to the police. It’s normally not up to the employer to decide whether to get the police involved, but the victim – who should be adequately supported through the process.

Risk assessments should include racist abuse. If any risk is identified, the employer has a duty to consider what steps they should take to reduce that risk.

Involving migrant and BME workers to combat racism in the workplace is vital. If a race equality or migrant workers’ group doesn’t already exist within a branch, then involve BME members and set one up. Union branches often work with local support groups and anti-racist organisations tackling the issue in local communities such as Show Racism the Red Card and Stand up to Racism.

  1. Survey union members

Due to the nature of the types of discriminatory practices and race issues that can take place at work, it’s not always easy for victims to come forward. Surveying members with the support of your union and employer could be an effective way to find out if anyone has experienced or witnessed abuse or feel anxious that they may face abuse. It is a good method to find out if members are aware of existing policies and if it’s preventing them from reporting it.

Talking about and tackling political issues such as the EU referendum can be tricky. Make sure that any discussion is treated and conducted with respect for the views and positions of others and in a sensitive way.

We all have the right to freedom of expression, but this doesn’t protect anyone that discriminates against others or incites violence or hatred. Freedom of speech shouldn’t excuse anybody making unwelcome remarks about another’s race, religion or identity. We should have a zero tolerance to racism at the workplace and workplace policies should enforce and reflect that.

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