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One in five black and minority ethnic (BME) people of those surveyed said they have been treated unfairly at work during the coronavirus pandemic because of their ethnicity, according to a new TUC self-report survey published today (Friday).
  • TUC today publishes pre-Covid-19 polling from ICM that shows that racism was rife in the workplace before the pandemic   

  • New TUC self-report survey adds to concerns that BME workers are now being put at increased risk during the pandemic 

  • TUC demands government takes decisive action to tackle racism now 

One in five black and minority ethnic (BME) people of those surveyed said they have been treated unfairly at work during the coronavirus pandemic because of their ethnicity, according to a new TUC self-report survey published today (Friday). 

In June the TUC launched a call for evidence for BME workers to share their experiences of work during Covid-19. More than 1,200 got in touch with the union body.  

Of those who contacted the TUC: 

  • A fifth said they received unfair treatment because of their ethnicity 

  • Around one in six BME workers told the TUC that they felt they had been put more at risk of exposure to coronavirus because of their ethnic background. Many reported being forced to do frontline work that white colleagues had refused to do. 

Other respondents said they were denied access to proper personal protective equipment (PPE), refused risk assessments and were singled out to do high-risk work. 

Racism at work 

The TUC believes that the Covid-19 outbreak has exacerbated many of the problems that already existed in the workplace – and wider society – for BME people.  

Just before the pandemic, a separate ICM poll of BME workers revealed that nearly half (45%) were given harder or less popular work than white colleagues. 

And the poll found that racism was rife in the workplace: 

  • Just over three in 10 (31%) BME workers told the TUC that they had had been bullied or harassed at work 

  • A similar percentage (32%) had witnessed racist verbal or physical abuse in the workplace or at a work organised social event 

  • Over a third (34 %) reported being unfairly turned down for a job   

  • Around a quarter (24%) had been singled out for redundancy 

  • One in six (16%) said they left their job because of the racist treatment they received. 

Previous TUC analysis has found that BME people tend to be paid less than white workers with the same qualifications. And that they are more likely to work in low-paid, undervalued jobs on insecure contracts. 

BME people working in jobs with higher mortality rates 

Additional new TUC analysis of official statistics shows that BME people are more likely to be working in professions with higher coronavirus mortality rates than white people, such as security guards, carers, nurses and drivers. 

  • BME men: Nearly three in 10 (28%) of male BME workers are employed in a specific occupation with a higher male mortality rate, compared to less than one in five (18%) of white male workers. This makes male BME workers 57% more likely to be working in one of these occupations than white male workers. 

  • BME women: One in five (20%) of female BME workers are employed in a specific occupation with a higher female mortality rate, compared to one in seven (14%) of white female workers. This makes female BME workers 48% more likely than female white workers to be employed in an occupation with a higher female mortality rate. 

Government must act on institutional and systemic racism 

The TUC is calling on the government to: 

  • Publish an action plan to tackle the inequalities that BME people face, including in work, health, education and justice 

  • Introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting and make employers publish action plans to ensure fair treatment for BME workers in the workplace 

  • Ban zero-hours contracts, and strengthen the rights of insecure workers  

  • Publish all the equality impact assessments related to its response to Covid-19 and be fully transparent about how it considers BME communities in its policy decisions. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Coronavirus has exposed the huge inequalities BME workers face.  

"Many have been discriminated against at work – and many have been put at greater risk than their white colleagues during the pandemic. That is not right. 

“Racism has blighted – and in some cases prematurely ended – BME lives during this crisis. And it’s clear from our research that racism and discrimination at work were part of many BME people’s day-to-day experience well before the pandemic. 

“This crisis has to be a turning point. The government must challenge systemic racism and inequality.” 

Case studies 

Sarah (not her real name), a nurse, told the TUC: When I went to work I was given a suspected Covid-19 patient to care for. When I said that the staff should be rotated so that we can all take a break from looking after Covid-19 patients, the senior nurse said if I found it difficult she would inform my agency to stop booking me. Because I didn’t want to lose my bookings I continued to work but I only did a day or two a week. Previously, I worked as a team leader. I was never given enough staff as prescribed by the hospital policy. In the end I was forced to resign not because I did anything wrong, but because I had the wrong skin colour. The stress was too much so I had to make a decision to either die on the job or move away quietly to save my dignity and health. 

Precious (not her real name), a care worker told the TUC: There was a shortage of PPE in [the] care home. I was expected to go into Covid-19 patients without appropriate PPE [and] wash deceased Covid-19 patients without appropriate PPE (seven in total) whilst white colleagues have not had one. [There was an] assumption that because of my colour I would do what I was told… Employers that don't provide appropriate PPE need to have a reporting system that staff have confidence will work. Currently complaints are swept under the carpet. If I was to complain I would be moved or lose my job. 

Estelle (not her real name), a midwife, said: I have noticed a trend of black midwives being sent on home visits in the community in comparison to white midwives. Black midwives expressed their concern because of the obvious and clear information regarding BME people being more at risk of dying of coronavirus or being seriously unwell. Yet the majority of midwives that have been sent on home visits have been black.  

Gabriella (not her real name), an agency nurse, told the TUC: I was allocated to the red zone caring for suspected and confirmed cases of Covid-19 without full protection. White counterparts were sent to work in the blue zone and on telephone triage. After raising concerns about patient and staff safety and the lack of PPE I was removed from the rota. 

Editors note

- The report is available at: 
- This release relies on two evidence sources:  

  • The TUC self-report survey: The TUC surveyed 1,210 self-identified BME workers between 1-20 June recruiting them via trade union and social media channels.  

  • An ICM survey of 1,253 BME workers, commissioned by the TUC: ICM interviewed a representative sample of 1,253 British Black and minority ethnic workers online (18+) between 4-9 March 2020. Participants were working full-time or part-time and were either in work currently or had been out of work for less than four years. The data has been weighted by gender.  

BME people working in professions with higher mortality rates: 
Mortality rates from by occupation are taken from the Office for National Statistics. The proportion of BME workers is based on TUC analysis of the Labour Force Survey (Q1 2020). 

- The Wales TUC is currently running a survey about how people are finding the Welsh workplace and the impact that their race or ethnicity has on this. Please visit: 
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 

Recommendations in full 

Government should take immediate action to:  

  • create and publish a cross-departmental action plan, with clear targets and a timetable for delivery, setting out the steps that it will take to tackle the entrenched disadvantage and discrimination faced by BME people; in order to ensure appropriate transparency and scrutiny of delivery against these targets regular updates should be published and reported to parliament  

  • strengthen the role of the Race Disparity Unit to properly equip it to support delivery of the action plan  

  • introduce mandatory ethnicity pay-gap reporting alongside a requirement for employers to publish action plans covering recruitment, retention, promotion, pay and grading, access to training, performance management and discipline and grievance procedures relating to BME staff and applicants  

  • introduce a ban on zero-hours contracts, a decent floor of rights for all workers and the return of protection against unfair dismissal to millions of working people  

  • demonstrate transparency in how it has complied with its public sector equality duty through publishing all equality impact assessments related to its response to the coronavirus pandemic.   

Employers should:  

  • undertake proper job-related risk assessments to ensure that BME workers are not disproportionately exposed to coronavirus and take action to reduce the risks, through the provision of PPE and other appropriate measures where exposure cannot be avoided  

  • establish an ethnic monitoring system that covers recruitment, promotion, access to training, performance management and disciplinary and dismissal, and then take care to evaluate and publish this monitoring data  

  • undertake a workplace race equality audit to identify institutional racism and structural inequality  

  • work with trade unions and workforce representatives to establish targets and develop positive action measures to address racial inequalities in the workforce.   

As representatives of workers, trade unions also need to take action to ensure that BME workers are able to raise issues of race discrimination in the workplace and to increase BME workers’ confidence that they will be supported in their struggles for fair treatment at work.  Unions need to:   

  • ensure BME workers are represented at all levels in union structures and on the main decision-making bodies of their organisations  

  • consult BME workers about their work, to improve their confidence in unions’ abilities to represent them   

  • ensure BME workers’ cases are speedily assessed, and concerns addressed  

  • take account of the race equality aspects of collective bargaining   

  • discuss with BME workers the bargaining issues that are relevant to their workplace experiences and set out how the mainstream negotiating agenda impacts on BME people’s working lives.    


TUC press office   
020 7467 1248  

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