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Barriers young BME workers face in the labour market

Published date
Young BME workers face many difficulties in gaining access to both employment and their experiences whilst in employment.
bme worker
Photo credit: Yuri_Arcurs/Getty Images

The barriers young workers face in the labour market vary from a lack of access to decent jobs through to progressing successfully at work to achieve a decent living standard. 

Here are 5 main issues that BME young workers face in the labour market:

  1. Unemployment

For many years the TUC has been concerned about the high unemployment levels for young BME workers. The Government’s Race Disparity Audit showed that BME people are twice as likely to be unemployed than white British adults. And a closer look at the figures from the ONS unemployment ethnicity data by age reveals that for all ethnic groups the unemployment rate is higher among 16-24 year olds than any other age group.

Bangladeshi and Pakistani people aged 16-24 face the highest unemployment rate of 30 per cent (in the year from Oct 2016 to September 2017) with a rate of 19 per cent for young Black people - compared to the unemployment rate of 11 per cent for white young people.

A recent JRF report found the level of poverty amongst ethnic minority groups is twice as high compared to white British groups. We believe that a major cause of this poverty and high unemployment amongst young BME people is race discrimination.

  1. Insecure jobs

The problems BME young workers face are not only restricted to the lack of access to the labour market but also include the type of jobs accessible to young workers.

TUC polling showed that BME young workers were more likely to be on zero-hours contract and underemployed. BME young people are more likely than older workers to have their hours changed at short notice.

TUC analysis has also found that casualisation is disproportionately affecting young BME workers with 15.2 per cent of young BME workers in non-permanent jobs compared to 8.4 per cent amongst young white workers. Young workers aged 20-29 from BME backgrounds are almost twice as likely to be working on a temporary basis as their white counterparts.

Insecure work, often accompanied by low pay, financial instability and under-employment, is disproportionately affecting young BME workers. These workers are vulnerable to exploitation and lose out on basic employment rights. The TUC believes young BME workers are at risk of remaining trapped insecure employment.

  1. Qualification & employment pay gap

Young people are consistently told that the level of education they achieve is vital to their future career success in the labour market. There is an expectation that higher levels of educational attainment will result in better job prospects and higher wages.

The TUC has looked into how the attainment of educational qualifications impacted on the employment opportunities for BME workers. Our report found that for all levels of educational qualifications BME workers are more likely to be unemployed than white workers.

We also reported on the qualification pay gap that young Black workers experience- showed that Black workers with degrees earn a quarter less than white workers with degrees.

Even a high level of education attainment does not always guarantee a decent well-paid job, especially if you are a young BME worker.  Unless action is taken there is a real risk that young BME workers will not invest in further education and training.

  1. Racist abuse and reporting

BME workers should not have to experience discrimination because of their race, but our polling report showed that racial abuse is rife in the workplace - especially if you are a BME young worker.

Our findings showed that BME young workers were more likely than older workers to have had racist comments directed at them or to have heard them directed at someone else. They were also more likely to have seen racist material being shared online.

19 per cent of young workers who did report the verbal abuse were treated less well at work, and unsurprisingly BME young workers worry about speaking up about their experience of racism and discrimination due to the fragile nature of their jobs.

With many young workers stuck in insecure jobs young workers are only too aware that reporting racist abuse could result in significant repercussions at the hands of unscrupulous employers -  such as being given less hours or no hours at all as well as being targeted with further abuse.

  1. Apprenticeships

The problems of young BME workers in the labour market are not confined to the lack of access and progression to jobs, but also to initiatives such as apprenticeships.

BME young workers are severely under-represented in apprenticeships. The government has made a commitment to increase BME participation in apprenticeships by 20 per cent.

We are concerned about the drop in the completion rate for BME young workers. In 2014–2015 just 61.9 per cent of young black women successfully completed their training programmes, compared to 66.4 per cent of Asian and 69.5 per cent white apprentices.

And even when BME young workers do complete an apprenticeship they struggle to find employment and face a huge employment gap of 23 per cent. Institutional racism and discrimination in the labour market lie beneath these shocking figures.

We believe that there are not enough apprenticeships of decent quality and that workplace discrimination is preventing under-represented groups achieve their qualifications.

There is also concern that BME apprentices are overwhelmingly concentrated in health, public services, business administration, social care, retail and commercial enterprise, as opposed to sectors such as engineering, science and construction.

What do we want?

This week the Prime Minister announced a £90 million innovative programme to address ethnic disparities in youth unemployment and to help disadvantaged young people get into work  - but as we have set out this is nowhere near enough to seriously tackle the structural race inequalities BME people face in the labour market.

For a very long time, the TUC has been calling on the government to develop a separate and consistent race equality strategy and action plan which addresses the racial discrimination experienced by BME workers in employment. We believe the current government approach is too generic and will not deal with the specific issues faced by BME young workers.

This weekend young trade unionists will be gathering in London for the annual TUC Young Workers conference to debate on various workplace issues – we know that young BME workers need unions more than ever.

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