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Workplaces are becoming more diverse. But many Black workers are lagging behind white workers when it comes to pay, promotion and working conditions.

The guide below will be taking you through some of the challenges facing BME workers in today’s economy, as well as helping you be proactive in finding solutions. It will look at issues such as equal opportunities policies and monitoring, as well as how trade unions can create more equal places of work through collective bargaining and negotiation.

1. Introduction: type of discrimination and trade unions

There are four types of discrimination: direct, indirect, victimisation and harassment. Let’s go through each one briefly.


Direct discrimination

When someone is treated less favorably because of their race or religion. For example if a female black member of staff isn't treated the same way as a white man.

Indirect discrimination

Where a work policy or practice puts a certain group of workers at a disadvantage compared with those who are not.


Where a worker is treated unfairly because they have previously complained about racial discrimination at work. Or even when they have given evidence for another workmate in a discrimination case.


Where a person at work engages another in unwanted conduct. And the harasser has the purpose of creating an intimidating, degrading or humiliating environment for another worker.


Trade Unions and Collective Bargaining

With our workplaces becoming more racially diverse, our unions should too. Trade unions are best placed to lead the fight against racism, discrimination and unfair conditions at work.

Having a workplace rep means that workers have someone to turn when they feel they are being discriminated against. Union reps can take on grievances, and see these taken through to employment tribunals.

But tackling individual cases of discrimination doesn’t deal with the causes, whether those are bad bosses, other workers, or policies and procedures.

That’s where collective bargaining comes in. Through collective bargaining, unions can challenge the structures and policies that create unfair and unsafe workplaces.

Our aim is to create working environments that are safe and welcoming, and in which everyone is treated fairly.

2. Equalities and monitoring in the workplace




The Equality Act

The Equality Act 2010 is a law that is supposed to protect workers from unfair treatment due to age, sex, race and a number of other characteristics. This law can only protect workers if there are strong equal opportunities policies and practices within every organisation.



What exactly does equal opportunities mean?

An equal opportunities policy is a framework for addressing inequality and promoting fairness at work. It’s a set guidelines for how employees should be treated. Ideally, union members should play a role in drawing up the policy, to ensure that the interests of their members are addressed.

But having a policy in itself isn’t enough. It’s also vital to have an action plan to implement it, a clear line management structure, and mechanisms in place to ensure that it’s enforced.

While a strong equal opportunities framework goes some way to creating more inclusive organisations, there’s something else that trade unions need to pay attention to in order to root out discrimination.

Monitoring at work

Monitoring is the process by which companies collect information about their employees, or prospective employees. It could be information related to age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religion, to name a few examples. The information is usually collected by survey or questionnaire, and most often happens when an applicant applies for a job.

Why is it important for companies to use monitoring?

First of all, it helps to identify inequalities. For instance, monitoring can help identify if women or ethnic minority workers are under-represented in a job, or at different levels within an organisation.

It’s also important because it can help to identify causes of these inequalities. These could include things such as where the job is advertised, or limited promotion opportunities for BME workers.

Finally, in evaluating monitoring data, employers can find ways to address these inequalities.

What role can union reps play in all this?

First off, the work union reps do is crucial for holding management to account. Reps can make sure that employers stand by their policies and put concrete actions in place.

They can also make sure that the information gathered through monitored is stored and used correctly, and that it leads to instrumental change.


Here are a list of questions that can help you in the monitoring process:

Tick box What is being collected and how will it be used?

Tick box How will monitoring data be stored and who has access to it?

Tick box What, when and how will the information be published?

Tick box What does the data reveal about the diversity?

Tick box Does it reflect the local population demographics?

Tick box If the monitoring reveals disproportionate results for certain groups – what steps will the employer take to identify why this is the case?

Tick box Have race equality targets (ranging from pay, promotion, training, grievances) as a result of the monitoring.

Tick box Are these targets specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound?

Tick box Will they be measured by milestones?



3: Collective Bargaining – recruitment and selection

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the process by which union members negotiate with their employer to try and ensure certain wage levels and employment conditions are met.

Within this process, unions can negotiate for more anti-discriminatory recruitment policies.

For instance, unions can negotiate for monitoring to become a mandatory part of the recruitment process. Unions can also push for employers to carry out analysis to see whether the workforce reflects the ethnic composition of the local population.

Unions can also highlight potential problems with the recruitment process. These could include jobs not being advertised widely enough, a lack of a drive to target under-represented groups and a lack of standardisation in the process.

Collective bargaining can also push for recruitment staff to be given adequate training and to be made aware of the need to promote racial equality.


This checklist identifies question that you should ask yourself before putting together a list of demands on changes to your recruitment and selection procedures that you put forward to management

Tick box Does the composition of the workforce reflect the local population? (Information on the local population is available from the local authority and the Census.)

Tick box If not, is any monitoring being carried out to determine if Black workers are applying for job vacancies and what happens to their applications during the recruitment process

Tick box Where are job vacancies advertised?

Tick box Are any steps taken to ensure job advertisements are targeted at under-represented groups?

Tick box Is a standard application form used for all recruitment?

Tick box Are job descriptions and selection criteria made clear to all potential applicants and are they objective?

Tick box Are applications anonymised (i.e. names and gender removed) before being handed over for shortlisting?

Tick box What training is provided to staff involved in the recruitment and selection process? Does this include training on your workplaces equalities policy and its application to recruitment?



4: Collective Bargaining – Promotion and Acting up

Promotion and Acting up

In many companies, promotion happens through informal means. For example, there may be opportunities to ‘act up’ that not all workers are aware of.

Some employees might be given work or roles that are beyond their current pay grade, giving them opportunities to take on more responsibilities and advance.

Also, opportunities to apply for more senior positions are often not advertised. This means that workers who might want to apply for them don’t have the chance.

What can trade unions do?

These are all issues that trade unions can tackle through collective bargaining. Unions can negotiate for clear career progression policies or schemes to be put in place. This would help ensure that all workers have the chance to advance their career. It’s also important that unions insist for internal vacancies or progression opportunities to be clearly advertised.

Applications should also come with a clear job description, person specification and standard application form. Unions can also investigate whether opportunities are being made available to some workers and not others, and why this might be the case. Reps can then uncover whether certain groups of workers, such as black workers, are being consistently turned down for promotions despite applying for them.



This checklist covers issues that you should think about before putting together a list of demands on changes to your career development processes.

Tick box Is there a specific policy or scheme for career progression?

Tick box How are promotion/acting up opportunities advertised?

Tick box Is there open access to career development opportunities and are workers being paid for taking on extra responsibilities?

Tick box Are all workers eligible to apply for any promotion or acting up opportunities? If not, what reasons are given for limiting access?

Tick box Is there evidence to show that the employer has followed standard recruitment procedures for promotions? Are job descriptions and person specifications available for the job, and are applications assessed against this?



5: Collective Bargaining: Temporary and Casual Workers


The context of a casualised workforce

What is insecure work? People on zero-hours contracts, agency workers without regular shifts, and workers who are self-employed but low paid are all defined as being in insecure work.

There are now about 3.6 million people in insecure work in the UK.


Though insecure work has increased across the economy, it is more common in particular sectors. Workers in the hospitality and logistics industries have been particularly affected. But so have workers in the higher education sector, such as teachers and lecturers.

When analysing who is most likely to be in insecure, a number of patterns emerge. People on zero-hours or temp contracts are more likely to be young, more likely to be women and more likely to identify as non-white.

Nearly 1 in 6 of BME men are likely to be in insecure work 1 Black, minority and ethnic (BME) women are twice as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men 2

The total annual cost of pay penalties experienced by black, Indian and Pakistani/Bangladeshi men and women is estimated at £3.2 billion per year 3


These workers also face many barriers to advancement, such as lack of training opportunities. Rather than being a stepping stone, many people find that insecure employment becomes a trap.

Elaine who is an hourly paid lecturer for a London University told the TUC:

I’m employed on a one year contract and earn £42 per hour for six hours a week but have been informed by my manager my contract includes admin, preparation, marking, moderation and individual tutorial. I’m only paid for my contact time with student’s. I have experienced problems receiving sick pay and was told that I would have to make up any time that I am off sick by scheduling make up classes”.

The impacts on workers

There are also a number of psychological factors to consider.

  • Temp or casual workers tend to experience lower levels of autonomy and less job satisfaction.
  • There are also significant mental health difficulties that can come with being trapped in insecure work, including higher rates of anxiety and depression. And women are more likely than men to report feeling anxious or depressed because of their work situation.
  • These workers are also more likely to describe feelings of despair or worthlessness as a result of the level of economic insecurity they face.
  • Though these are some of the workers most vulnerable to low pay and exploitation, they are less likely to have union representation than those in full-time employment. Younger workers in particular are less likely to be part of a union.

The reality of life for young workers was explained to the TUC by a young Black restaurant worker on a zero-hours contract. They said:

I'm bullied because I'm fairly new and young. I'm given all the worse jobs to do like unblocking toilets even though it’s not in my job description and I'm poorly paid. I'm given unsociable hours which put my safety at risk, finishing at 2am and 4am and no transport is provided to get me home safely, communication is poor, and I'm often not given wage slips for weeks”.

What can union reps do to make sure these workers are protected?

The checklist below can help pressure employers into guaranteeing the best conditions for temp workers. The best outcome is that these workers are offered permanent contracts.


Tick box Is there a union agreement on the employment of temporary contract and agency staff?

Tick box Is there a policy on and a criteria for the use of temporary and agency staff?

Tick box What proportion of the workforce is employed on a temporary contract or through an agency?

Tick box Does monitoring extend to staff on temporary contracts?

Tick box Why are such workers not given permanent contracts?

Tick box Are there instances where jobs of a similar role or grade are undertaken by staff on permanent contracts?

Tick box Are there instances where the temporary contracts of workers are automatically renewed?

Tick box Are exit interviews conducted with temporary or short-term staff? If yes, what happens to this information?



6: Collective Bargaining: Performance assessment and disciplinary action

Performance assessments

There are several things that reps can do to try and ensure that performance assessments act in a way that is helpful and empowering.

  1. Investigate whether both managers and workers have received adequate training on how performance assessments should work.
  2. Explore whether performance assessments are based on measurable and unbiased criteria.
  3. Find out whether outcomes are monitored by ethnicity and whether opportunities for training and advancement are part of the process.

Disciplinary action

Similarly to performance assessments, disciplinary processes often operate in ways that treat black or minority ethnic workers unfairly.

Workers may face disciplinary proceedings for a number of reasons, such as concerns about conduct, absence from work or negligence.

Unfortunately, Black workers often find themselves more likely to be subject to disciplinary action, not because of their conduct, but due to racially biased attitudes on the part of management.

There are ways to counter this.

  • Reps can investigate whether disciplinary procedures are monitored by ethnicity, and whether certain groups of workers are more likely to be disciplined.
  • If this is the case, reps can check whether there are policies in place for how disciplinary powers are used. Are managers receiving enough training? And do black workers receive the same amount of guidance and supervision as white workers?
  • It’s also importance to find out whether standards of conduct are understood by all staff. This will ensure that disciplinary procedures are only used when appropriate and in a way that all workers are treated with dignity and respect.


7: Negotiating and Next Steps

What do you do next?

In order for unions to be able to effect change within their places of work, it’s important to be armed with as much information as possible.

Step 1: talking to the workers who have been affected by discrimination

  • What are Black and Ethnic workers experiences of discrimination?
  • What do they know about the equal opportunities policies at their place of work?
  • Do they feel as though they’re working? What does monitoring information reveal?

Step 2: Create a course of action before approaching management

  • What are the main issues that need to be tackled?
  • Is it discrimination at the recruitment stage?
  • Or is there an issue with certain groups of workers not being promoted?

Step 3: Start thinking about possible solutions and how you can gain support from the majority of your union members. For instance, would a workplace campaign be the most effective way to raise awareness of the issue?

Step 4: Think about how management might respond.

Step 5: Clarify the exact objectives you’re hoping to achieve. You should have this ready before you approach management. 

When approaching management, it’s also very important that the voices of Black workers are represented.

And of course, you need to ensure that any agreement you reach with your employer benefits all union members equally.

We hope that these videos have given you some tools to be able to identify, investigate and tackle cases of racial discrimination at work.

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