On the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it is prescient that our trade unions in the UK will be coming together at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Black Workers’ Conference to advance a progressive agenda for anti-racism on the anniversary of the first national Coronavirus lockdown. In the last year we have seen the country plunged into a health emergency, an economic emergency and a racial justice emergency. A health pandemic and the Government’s response to it has reopened the deep wounds of structural racism that continue to blight and scar our country and our economy.
Black communities and workers hard hit by the pandemic
Structural racism continues to hold back communities and blight life chances. We have seen that most starkly in data showing the highest rates of Covid-19 deaths amongst Black communities. Black communities have been systematically failed by a Government response that was supposed to protect us all during the pandemic.
Analysis by the TUC has revealed that employment for black workers has fallen by 5.3% over the last year, compared to 0.2% for white workers. Employment of Black workers has fallen at 26 times the rate of white workers during the pandemic. Around 1 in 12 black workers are now unemployed, compared to 1 in 22 white workers. Black workers in London experience a 24% ethnicity pay gap. Black workers are disproportionately more likely to work in precarious jobs, often on zero hours contracts or in agency work.
Black women are around twice as likely as white workers to be employed in insecure jobs. They have also been less likely to be protected financially during the pandemic. It is devastating to note that Black women are still 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought this disparity even more starkly to light.
Young people from Black backgrounds are more likely to be unemployed than white workers at every qualification level. As we witnessed in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher’s government, young Black people once again face a very real prospect of being left behind unless determined and concerted action is taken to ensure that the country’s pandemic response delivers racial justice.
In the education system we have seen how systemic racism continues to damage the lives of Black children. Black boys are three times more likely to be excluded from schools, three times more likely to end up unemployed, and more likely to end up in prison. And, Black women face the realities of multiple discrimination - two times more likely to end up employed in insecure jobs and singled out for harder and less safe duties at work compared to their white counterparts.
Disgracefully, since the start of the pandemic, Black workers have been faced with “fire and rehire” employer practices at nearly twice the rate of white workers, with 1 in 7 Black workers told by their employer that they risk losing their jobs if they do not accept inferior terms and conditions, compared to 1 in 13 white workers.
Across the board, Black workers have borne the brunt of job losses through the pandemic. In every industry where jobs have gone, Black workers have paid the higher price. And when Black workers have held on to their jobs, they are not only more likely to be working in low-paid, insecure jobs, but three times more likely to die from Covid-19.
Our communities continue to endure racist attacks on our streets and the discriminatory use of police stop and search. During the pandemic, Black and Asian people are 54% more likely to be fined under coronavirus rules than white people.
Unions demanding racial justice in Coronavirus emergency response
As Black workers, communities and trade unions, we want no more excuses. No more delays. The Government has failed to keep its promise of ending racial injustice, by cutting funding of equalities enforcement bodies and refusing to publish race equality impact assessments of the emergency measures they have introduced over the last year.
It’s time the Government stopped paying lip-service to equality. They must act.
Our trade union movement is demanding change. And, that is what our unions are doing through the work of the TUC Anti-Racism Taskforce. We will not stand by whilst racism continues to operate and where White and Black working people are pitched against each other while racial injustice continues to exist.
Unions like the NASUWT are working to build a new generation of activists focused on anti-racist campaigning in the workplace and working in tandem with civil society organisations. We are determined to put front and centre action to challenge racism wherever it exists - in our education system, in government, in the workplace and in our unions, too.
It is time the Government stepped up, too. Ensuring an effective Equality Act that is properly enforced would be a start. But, action is also needed to institute mandatory reporting by employers on their race pay gaps; a national action plan to tackle the racial inequalities in work, health, education and justice; and a ban on zero-hours contracts and strengthening the rights of insecure workers. Proactive measures are also needed to prevent rising unemployment and to improve the social safety net for those who do lose their jobs. We also need legislation that delivers stronger protections for all working people, and a curriculum in our schools that teaches about the historical injustices that drive structural racism.
A national recovery plan would create the conditions for ending racism within our communities and in our workplaces. The pandemic of racism can be defeated, but it will require committed leadership and concerted action to do so.