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What does fighting racism in the workplace looks like in 2024? 

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Today marks the UN international day for the elimination of racial discrimination. Although marking the historic Sharpesville massacre and how we combat racism today is important – it’s not enough. Our struggle against racism must be constant and consistent.  

Racism does not exist in a vacuum – especially in the workplace.  

Far too often workplace racism is wrongly reduced to either a series of random one-off events and/or the implicit attitudes and unconscious biases of an individual.  

Racism is a system of domination and oppression with a deep-rooted historical foundation. It divides and organises society in a way that structurally disadvantages certain ethnic groups.  

Four years since the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement – what change has been made for Black communities in the UK?  

The reality is very little.  

The TUC’s Anti-Racism Taskforce, launched in 2020 has paved the way for our trade union movement to review the progress we are making on social and economic justice for BME workers.  

And the research and commitments we have taken from this work, outlines the way forward in 2024 and beyond. 

We know that structural racism traps Black workers in lower paid and insecure jobs, and the everyday experience of racism. With the cost-of-living crisis spiraling, a general election looming, the far-right presence increasing on our streets and screens – we outline our five priority areas for 2024. What trade unions must do to fight racism.  

One: Build stronger trade unions  

We’ve seen repeated attacks on trade union rights. The right to organise and take industrial action in workplaces most recently under attack. 

The two most recent examples of this are the 2016 Trade Union Act and the Strikes Bill (Minimum Service Levels).  

They are the most serious attack on the workers’ rights in a generation. An ideological assault on trade unions’ rights intended to further inhibit the fundamental right to strike. 

These laws target the public sector where BME and women workers are disproportionately represented. BME workers represent 15% of the total workforce. But are significantly overrepresented in two key sectors – health (24%) and transport (21%) - affected by the legislation.  

These pernicious laws will imbed inequality and remove workers’ rights to stand up for fair treatment at work. We also know, that where employers move to use work notices to force union members to work during strike periods, BME workers could be unfairly targeted for dismissal by unscrupulous employers, given the discrimination and racism in “every corner of the labour market”. 

BME workers are the last to be hired and first to be fired. They’re overrepresented in lower paid jobs, on outsourced contracts and in insecure work.  

We must continue campaigning against the MSL and other trade union laws, to protect BME workers and their right to strike.  

But that’s not all –trade unions must be better at representing members with cases of racial discrimination.  

We need reps to be better equipped in identifying and building cases against racial discrimination.  

And trade unions must continue to put BME workers issues at the center of their collective bargaining agreements.  

The work doesn't stop there, the TUC is building networks of Black reps and activists to ensure that the movement is more diverse and more representative, reflecting the multi racial make up of Britain’s working class.   

Two: Banning zero-hour contracts 

The “boom” in BME workers in insecure work accounts for the vast majority of the overall increase in insecure workers over the last decade. Our analysis shows the number of BME workers in insecure work has more than doubled from 2011 to 2022 (from over 360,000 to over 800,000). 

Insecure work is low-paid with fewer rights and protections. This means hours can be subject to the whims of managers and work can be lost without notice. We know there’s a particular rise in low paid self-employment in delivery and driving among BME men. 

The UK is becoming a nation of insecure jobs, with precarious and low-paid work widespread in all regions and nations of the UK.    

There are 3.9 million people in insecure employment – that’s 1 in 9 across the workforce.    

The disproportionate number of BME workers in insecure work shines a light on stark inequalities in the labour market.  

Our campaigning effort has to be centered around Black workers who are locked in poverty and exploitation.  

So exploitative zero-hours contracts must be banned.  

Worker should have contracts that reflects their normal hours of work. This should be combined with strong rules requiring employers to give adequate notice of shifts and compensation for cancelled shifts, including costs such as transport and childcare costs.  

Three: Winning for outsourced workers 

During the pandemic, politicians clapped for key frontline workers for risking their lives and keeping us safe.   

But since then, those same politicians have forgotten about those workers who kept this country going. From cleaners and maintenance staff in the NHS, to those who prepare and serve meals to school children, and care for the elderly, they have all been left behind. With  

many of these fundamental jobs outsourced and workers employed by private companies, on worse contracts than their directly employed colleagues.  

These workers are treated like second class citizens. Undervalued, under-appreciated and underpaid. Employed on zero-hours contracts with no protections like fair sick pay schemes when they are ill.  

But a lot of those workers have had enough. We are already seeing outsourced workers coming together to demand better, such as fair pay, secure contracts and dignity at work.  

By taking action in our trade unions, outsourced workers up and down the country are winning better pay and better treatment at work. From caterers at a government department who won a 12% pay rise, to hospital laundry workers who won a 17% pay rise and a transfer to NHS working conditions.  

We must continue fighting for outsourced workers. 

Four: Introducing mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting 

There’s been a lot of talk about the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting for companies and businesses in the past few years.  

Given the size of the challenge, mandatory pay reporting would be an important step towards beginning to tackle the £3.2bn pay penalty experienced by BME workers. 

However, pay reporting has to also ensure employers identify the inequalities which are the root causes of the ethnicity pay gap, take meaningful action to address them and work with unions to tackle structural discrimination.  

Ethnic monitoring and regular reporting are essential if employers are to identify and address the patterns of inequality in the workplace.  

They need to collect baseline data, update this information regularly so that it can be seen in the context of wider trends, and measures against clear, timebound objectives.  

We need measures requiring employers across both the private and public sectors to establish ethnic monitoring systems that cover recruitment, promotion, pay and grading, access to training, performance management and discipline and dismissals.  

Pay gap reporting needs to be supported by a more comprehensive approach to ethnic monitoring systems. 

Without up-to-date monitoring data in such areas employers will find it difficult to develop a clear picture of their workplaces and identify areas where BME staff are underrepresented or potentially disadvantaged. 

And we also need stronger regulations and enforcement. 

The EHRC in its role as a regulator should be given the role of monitoring compliance with ethnicity pay reporting regulations.  

Enforcement activity must extend beyond a mere tick box approach of merely checking that data has been published. It must also examine the accuracy of the data and check compliance with mandatory publication of narratives and action plans.  

Meaning the EHRC will require appropriate powers and additional resourcing.  

Monitoring in the workplace is an important part of starting to tackle racism in the workplace. 

It’s important that unions and their reps are part of pushing monitoring systems in their places of work.  

Five: Everyday racism at work 

Our Dying on the Job report in 2020 painted a shocking picture of how BME workers were treated working through the pandemic.   

One in five BME workers reported unfair treatment due to their ethnicity, and many felt compelled to undertake high-risk frontline work that their white colleagues had refused.  

Structural racism, evident in housing, healthcare, and the job market, devalued the lives of certain groups, putting them at a disproportionately higher risk of the pandemic.  

The Covid Public Inquiry is an important opportunity for us to learn from the lessons of the pandemic.   

As we reflect on the experiences of BME workers in terms of health and safety, exploitation, and working conditions, the undeniable truth emerges: racism is not only real, but it can also be lethal. 

Despite assurances to "build back better" and acknowledge the efforts of essential workers, employment conditions have not seen improvement for many of those whose contributions were lauded during the pandemic. 

Not only have employment conditions not improved, BME workers are still experiencing bullying, harassment and discrimination at work. We’re researching BME women’s experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace – this is the first research of this kind in the UK and will help us to support unions in eradicating sexual harassment.  

This is why we must continue campaigning for a government to guarantee swift and efficient penalties for instances of racism experienced by workers. Every individual deserves to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace.  


When it comes to racism there is no silver bullet that will fix the issue. 

Race is intrinsically linked with our economic structure that categorises certain groups of workers to do certain jobs – many without the security and rights that protect them. 

Experiences of racism and its many facets comes at a huge cost. BME worker’s 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's used to divide working people and makes us all weaker. 

4 years on from the death of George Floyd -now is not the time for incremental measures, performative gestures or half-hearted policy initiatives, but for transformative change.  

The trade union movement will keep fighting for radical action to address racism in our labour market. We believe Britain at work should be Britain at its best – fair, inclusive and equal. BME workers deserve nothing less. 

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