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Racism is rife in UK workplaces

Published date
A new poll by the TUC finds 2 in 5 Black and minority ethnic (BME) workers have faced racism at work in the last five years. 

The research shows that racism scars every aspect of working life for BME workers. It undermines their lives, livelihoods and life chances. 

It exists in racist “jokes” and “banter”, in stereotypes, and in harassment and bullying. 

Racism determines who gets hired and fired, and it shapes BME workers’ day-to-day experiences, from training and promotion opportunities to the allocation of shifts and holidays.  

But alarmingly, the vast majority of those who have been on the receiving end of racism at work do not report it for fear of it not being taken seriously, or negative consequences on their work life. Some workplaces have no ways to report racism at all.  

Unsurprisingly, this all comes at a huge cost. BME workers’ mental health suffers. Their confidence takes a hit. And many suffer in-work poverty, sometimes having to do two, or even three jobs to make ends meet. This racism doesn’t just wreck lives – it wastes talent and potential.  

During the pandemic we saw the disproportionate impact structural racism has on BME workers. BME workers weren’t listened to, were denied PPE, and made to do unfavourable tasks their white colleagues (rightly) wouldn’t do. This inequality not only limits Black workers’ life opportunities, but also contributes to prematurely ending their lives. 

The TUC’s new report shows the enormous scale of the structural and institutional discrimination BME workers face in the UK. 

One Black worker, who works in a college, told the TUC she had been called the “N-word” on numerous occasions by students. 

And another BME worker told us she’d been bullied by colleagues for the food she took into work. Instead, she felt pressured to take cheese and tomato sandwiches to fit in. 

Things must change. That’s why unions must put the fight against racism at the heart of our organising, bargaining and campaigning work. We must build solidarity among working people and show that the debates about class and race in modern Britain are fundamentally linked.  

Ministers must wake up. The TUC is calling on the government to act now and introduce a new duty on employers to stop racism in the workplace. 

The law should be changed so that employers are responsible for protecting their workers and preventing racism at work.    

That means employers must be clear they have a zero-tolerance policy towards racism – and that they will support all staff who raise concerns about racism or who are subjected to racial abuse. When workers experience racism there must be swift and effective penalties so that any forms of alleged bullying and harassment are dealt with seriously. 

And it means employers need to establish a comprehensive ethnic monitoring system covering ethnicity pay-gap reporting, recruitment, retention, promotion, pay and grading, access to training, performance management and discipline and grievance procedures. 

And workers’ rights must be strengthened. BME workers are significantly more likely to experience insecure and poor-quality work. Raising the floor of rights for everyone – by, for example, banning zero-hours contracts – would disproportionately benefit BME workers. Reversing outsourcing, introducing fair pay agreements - starting in sectors like social care - and giving workers the right to access their union on-site would also improve rights for all.  

It is unthinkable that in 2022 racism still determines who gets hired, trained, promoted – and who gets demoted and dismissed. 

The trade union movement will keep fighting for action to end racism in our labour market and employers must work with trade unions and workforce representatives to develop action plans that address racial disparities in their workplaces. 

Britain should be a fair, inclusive country for all workers. 

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