BME people already have the most precarious and insecure employment and housing. Many are vulnerable to unemployment and potential homelessness. Coupled with a lack of support and advice on employment rights, plus a hostile environment made worse by Brexit, this leaves BME workers extremely vulnerable.
BME workers in Wales and Covid-19

BME workers survey

We want to know more about how people are finding the Welsh workplace and the impact that their race or ethnicity has on this. We are running a survey to help us create useful resources for workplaces and help us to provide evidence for the Welsh Government on what needs to change.

Don't let your concerns go unheard. Please take our survey.

Problems facing BME workers in Wales

Unions are helping thousands of BME workers with their workplace issues. But they are also raising the issues important to the wider BME community, such as: 

  • ONS Stats show that BME workers are over-represented in some occupations that require frequent contact with people, and regular exposure to disease, such as dental practitioners and medical practitioners.
  • The impact of schools closing disproportionately affects BME families who, because of systemic inequality, are more likely to be poorer.  BME families are, for example, more likely to rely on free school meals and have less internet access at home.  
  • Wales TUC is working with Welsh Government on a post-lockdown plan which will reduce the risk to extended family members and grandparents. Many BME families in particular rely on family members for childcare. 
  • The impact of cancelled GCSEs and A-Levels will disproportionately affect young BME people. Predicted grades are known to negatively impact on BME and working-class pupils due to lower expectations from teachers. Wales TUC asked Welsh Government to mitigate this impact.  
  • Access to services can be difficult as many BME clients use community groups for face to face advice and signposting. The majority of these service are now closed, while new email or phone-based access systems are being put in place.  3-way conversations where an interpreter needs to be present can be a lot more complicated than a face to face conversation. 
  • Over a third of some ethnic minorities live in overcrowded conditions, compared to just one in ten white families.  This often means living in blocks of flats, where the lack of space can make social distancing difficult.  
  • BME people are also more likely to be living in larger towns and cities, making them more vulnerable to air pollution.  That makes them more likely to suffer from respiratory illnesses such as asthma – a coronavirus risk factor.

There are also health inequalities connected to race and poverty.

Watch our Policy Officer Nisreen Mansour explain what the current data tells us about the issues faced by BME workers in Wales. Download the slides from this presentation.

Often a lack of access to healthy, culturally and religiously appropriate food and exercise spaces contribute to higher levels of diabetes and hypertension in BME groups. And anyone with one of these underlying health conditions is also at greater coronavirus risk.

Read the TUC blog: Covid-19: How racism kills

"BME people do tend to be in a lower socioeconomic category, tend to be poorer. They’re also more likely to live with extended families and cannot isolate away from more vulnerable family members. Another problem is that information isn’t available in multiple languages. Some people have relied on information coming from other parts of the world to understand the impact of the virus - the information fed to BME communities was much slower."

Many unions have removed restrictions around membership joining and are providing legal support from the day of joining. Join a union today.

Employees whose work is critical to the coronavirus response are classed as critical workers in Wales. This includes health and social care workers, teachers, people working in supermarkets and many more occupations.  There are approximately 490,000 critical workers in Wales, which is around one-third of the workforce.  

While employees with a white ethnicity account for almost 95% of all critical workers in Wales, some other ethnic groups are more likely to be critical workers.  Available data indicates that more than half of employees of Bangladeshi ethnicity are critical workers, and half of Black, African, Caribbean and Black British employees work in critical occupations. Employees of a Pakistani ethnicity are least likely to be critical workers.

Within some ethnic groups there are an even higher proportion of women. Around two thirds (66%) of critical workers of an Asian background other than Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Chinese were women.

The Welsh Government published guidance in March 2020 on the types of businesses that should remain closed during the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Business such as pubs, restaurants and leisure centres were included.

Around 230,000 people were employed in industries in Wales in 2019 that were told to close after the initial coronavirus pandemic, representing around 16% of the total workforce. Women, young people and employees from a minority ethnic background are more likely to be employed in those industries.

20% of all employees of a black, Asian and minority ethnic background work in industries told to close, compared to 15% of white employees. 93% of all employees within these industries were white (compared to 95% of all employees across Wales).

Your rights as a BME worker

Your rights as a BME worker

Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides workers with the right to withdraw from and refuse to return to a workplace that is unsafe.

There have been several examples of union branches walking off the job citing this law. Where reps feel their workplace is unsafe due to Covid-19 contamination, they should contact their union's legal team for urgent advice on taking action.

Read more about your rights if you refuse to work because of coronavirus safety concerns.

20% of the NHS staff in the UK are BME and 44% of the NHS medical staff in the UK are BME.

The Equality Act 2010 is the key piece of legislation dealing with workplace discrimination. It protects workers from discrimination based on age, sex, disability, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, or gender reassignment.

The Equality Act 2010 can help protect BME workers. It says that race includes:
(a) colour;
(b) nationality;
(c) ethnic or national origins

Union representatives have a key role to play in:

  • Promoting equal rights for all members, by seeking to negotiate with employers’ policies and procedures that advance equality and do not lead to one group being disproportionately disadvantaged.
  • Creating a supportive atmosphere at work and in the union in which all members feel that they can participate and that their opinions are valued.
  • Challenging instances of harassment and discrimination and ensuring complaints are dealt with effectively.
  • Acting as a role model in treating everyone fairly.

For more information on how the Equality Act can protect workers visit the EHRC website..

What your employer should do

  • NHS and Care workers will be asked to follow a two-stage risk assessment (the all-Wales COVID-19 Workforce Risk Assessment Tool). This is best practice and should be rolled out by other employers in other sectors.
  • People at increased risk, in discussion with their line manager, may require an adjustment to allow them to change their working arrangements or to work from home.  Line managers should actively work with BME workers to ensure they have the right support and are safe at work, especially during this Covid-19 crisis.
  • In many workplaces, the structures and hierarchies that exist prevent BME workers from reaching the top.  This can leave BME workers trapped in jobs that underpay and undervalue their skills and achievements.  All employers should look at their pay structures and carefully examine where BME workers are within the organisation, and what type of contracts they work on.  They should then seek to address these inequalities and create a plan with a timescale to make changes to rectify them.
  • Employers should listen to BME members within their workplace.  Allowing BME people a safe space to organise, network and discuss can be the first step, but employers need to make sure that BME people are actively listened to when they raise issues relating to race and the workplace.

What we're asking Government to do to protect BME workers

We're concerned that some employers are flouting the law.  We're working with the Welsh Government to protect BME workers and their income, jobs and health and access to services.

There have been numerous reports produced - some commissioned by the UK government itself - which have recommended action to tackle discrimination and entrenched disadvantage faced by BME workers.

If these recommendations had been acted on, perhaps BME people might be facing a different situation today.

The TUC has written to the UK Government to raise the following:

We cannot continue this inaction when the COVID 19 crisis has shown us clearly that inequality not only limits Black people’s life opportunities but also contributes to prematurely ending their lives.

BME workers in Wales and Covid-19

We are concerned that much of the debate around the clear disproportionate impact that COVID 19 is having is focused on the symptoms of inequality, such as higher rates of asthma, rather than causal factors such as poverty which underpins BME communities’ exposure to higher rates of air pollution.

This approach could lead to pathologizing and blaming of communities rather than focused action to address the root causes of disproportionate impact.

An effective response needs to take on board these causal factors as well as reports of potential discrimination in the allocation of higher risk job roles, with BME healthcare staff reporting being asked to work on COVID 19 wards over and above their white colleagues.

These reports reflect the discrimination faced by BME workers before the outbreak of COVID-19. Research conducted by TUC in early 2020 revealed that 56% of BME women and 48% of BME men reported being allocated harder or less popular tasks than white counterparts. Our report ‘Is Racism Real’ revealed that despite experiencing high levels of discrimination, BME staff do not feel confident in reporting this, with almost half not reporting incidents. Respondents reported not being believed and in many cases being targeted for worse treatment if they did report discrimination that they faced. Those in insecure work faced even more barriers to reporting with fears of work not being offered if complaints were raised.

Recent anecdotal reports from frontline health and social care staff reflect these findings. Although BME staff report unfair allocation of PPE and being allocated higher risk tasks, they are reluctant to report this as they do not want to be labelled as a troublemaker or risk victimisation. Given the barriers experienced by individuals in reporting discriminatory treatment, compounded by the significant numbers of insecure BME staff in front line roles, EHRC should urgently collect evidence with a view to using enforcement or investigatory powers.

  1. If workers cannot work because of health and safety risks, the law stipulates they should be suspended on full pay. Government should extend the job retention scheme so that employers are able to reclaim 80% of these workers’ wages. However, it is a legal requirement that employers continue to pay the affected worker full pay.
  2. Take active steps to raise awareness of existing legal protections for workers and to reassure BME workers that they are fully protected from discrimination.

We want these measures to apply to all workers, including those in part-time, agency or insecure work and those who qualify as self-employed.

This action must be part of a broader strategy to protect the health and safety of people at work, including stronger government guidance (underpinned by regulation) on the safety measures all employers must give consideration to now and new powers (via a tripartite network, involving employers, unions and the HSE) for government to compel employers who do not follow these steps to close.

Find out more with the TUC's coronavirus rep guide.

Read our response to inquiry on Coronavirus and the impact on people with protected characteristics.

Tell us your experience

If you have experienced or witnessed racism in the workplace please fill in our survey.

Are you worried about not being able to stay safe from coronavirus at your workplace?

Please tell us your experiences using our whistle blowing form.

We will anonymously share the information about your health and safety concern with Welsh Government and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). If you tell us it’s OK to pass on your details, we will also report the issue to your trade union for you.  

Fill in our health and safety whistleblowing form

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They’re there when times are tough – providing free legal advice if you need it. There are lots of discounts and offers for union members too. And every year they help more than 200,000 people get the training and learning opportunities they need to move on in their career.

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