Despite progress hidden racism still pervades Britain's workplaces

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date: Monday 7 April 2003

embargo: 00.01 Friday 11 April 2003

Attention: Industrial, ethnic media and news desks

Britain’s black and ethnic minority workers say that real progress has been made in combating race discrimination at work over the past 10 years, but that racism persists, often in disguised forms. These findings are revealed in a TUC report Black voices at work out today (Friday 11 April 2003).

Issued on the eve of the 10th anniversary TUC Black Workers’ Conference, the report calls on the Government to extend race relations laws to require all employers to positively promote race equality. Employers should take race discrimination more seriously, the report says. They must give responsibility for equal opportunities policies to their most senior managers, who must treat racial discrimination, including the expressing of racist views, as a serious disciplinary offence. Unions are also called on to step up promotion of their equal opportunities policies more widely to both workers and employers, especially in smaller companies.

The report includes in-depth interviews with black and ethnic minority workers who have benefited from the past decade of anti-racist campaigning, equal opportunities policies, and companies’ concerns about their corporate image. But those interviewed also report being passed over for promotion, putting up with racist language, managements only paying lip service to equal opportunities policies, and more subtle discrimination.

Brendan Barber , TUC General Secretary Elect said: 'Anti racist laws and campaigning have brought real benefits to large numbers of workers. Now the Government must legislate to force all employers to rid our workplaces of racism. Unions are ready to work in partnership with employers and the Government to guarantee equality for all at work.'

The interviews also show that like anyone else black workers’ main concerns at work include opportunities, work-life balance, doing a good job, providing for the family, and job satisfaction. They also felt that as the workforce become more mixed a greater value was being placed on diversity at work. There was more open discussion in work about discrimination than there had been a few years ago. And big employers were especially keen to show they had a mixed workforce. But today with discrimination more likely to be hidden rather than obvious there were many suggestions to tackle the covert racism.

  • More black and ethnic minority managers and executives should be appointed to give confidence to black workers.
  • Increased transparency is needed so that full explanations are given about why and how decisions are taken on issues like promotion and pay.
  • All managers should be properly trained in understanding differences in culture, tradition, religion, and behaviour.
  • Much improved induction procedures are needed to positively promote cultural and racial diversity. Workers should be able to express their needs and identities rather than feel the need to ‘blend in’.
  • Introduce effective, independent complaints procedures with clearly understood follow through processes.
  • Companies that actively prohibit anti racism among their employees must extend their policies to deal with racist customers.
  • Employers should be sensitive to cultural differences. They should give employees time off for religious holidays; ensure that things like uniforms and canteen food reflect a cultural range; and recognise diversity through media such as websites and via internal communications such as the intranet.

Quotes from interviews in Black voices at work

Caribbean woman, public sector, Liverpool: 'I don’t actually believe that it’s got that much better - I think people have just got better at hiding it".

Pakistani woman, public sector, education, Leicester: 'It’s a multi-cultural environment where children and staff are concerned. I’m Muslim and there are Muslim children at my school who are reluctant to do things like swimming. Muslim girls sometimes restrict themselves, but I can get them to participate in the activity. I tell them there is nothing wrong, and that I would let my children join in. I say I’m a Muslim and I don’t think like that - it helps.'

Black woman, public sector, Birmingham: 'The racism is not always obvious and gross. We just don't seem to be treated equally and fairly.'

African woman, public sector, London: 'Things have got better. In the health service you now tend to see more ethnic minority nurses at Sister level. It’s probably due to a campaign, and the public outcry about it. But there’s still a lack of blacks and Asians at senior management level.'

Indian man, private sector, Leeds: 'Our company changed when they did an equal opportunities review a couple of years back and they realised that black representation was below the national level. So they made a massive effort to recruit people from ethnic backgrounds. It made a big difference, it’s good.'

Bangladeshi woman, public sector, Manchester: 'It’s better than it used to be. We now have rules, regulations and laws against racism, and more people are taught not to be racist. That’s probably why there’s less hate and violence now than there was, but there’s always going to be some wherever you go.'

Bangladeshi woman, health service, Bradford: 'It’s good to be in the union working in the public sector. We don’t want anything to happen, but it might and we’re protecting our rights.'

Notes to Editors:

  • The report is based on a series of in-depth interviews with black workers and ethnic minority workers, conducted for the TUC between 19 February and 4 March 2003 by Opinion Leader Research to mark the tenth anniversary year of the TUC’s black workers’ conference. The interviewees were workers of Asian, Caribbean, African and Chinese origin, living in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham and Leicester.
  • TUC Black Workers’ Conference: Friday 11 April at 2pm, to Sunday 13 April, at the Adelphi Hotel, Ranelagh Place, Liverpool. Keynote speakers: Friday 11 - 3pm Lord Filkin, Home Office Minister for Race Relations; 3.30pm Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary Elect; 5.15pm; Bill Morris, TGWU General Secretary. Saturday 12 - 3.30pm Trevor Phillips, Chair Commission for Racial Equality.
  • Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit


Media enquiries:

Mike Power 020 7467 1287 or 07900 914 322 (mobile) or 07626 845676 (pager) [email protected]

Press Office 020 7467 1248 or 07699 744115 (pager) or email [email protected]

Other enquiries:

Roger McKenzie 020 7467 1259 or 07973 559 241

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