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TUC Women's Conference warns of ‘endemic grip of structural racism on the labour market’

‘More than a million people having to rely on zero-hours contracts to make ends meet,’ TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady says

INSECURE work is “endemic and is tightening the grip of structural racism on the labour market,” the TUC Women’s Conference has been warned.

The conference, which began today and runs until Friday, heard reports from new analysis published by the TUC about the structural racism faced by black women who, at 4.7 per cent, are nearly twice as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men, at 2.4 per cent.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Insecure work is endemic in modern Britain, with more than a million people having to rely on zero-hours contracts to make ends meet.

“And it’s black workers, particularly women, who are getting trapped in jobs with the worst pay and the worst conditions — struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table.

“We need to end the scourge of insecure work once and for all. That’s how you start to tackle the structural racism that holds black workers back. And that’s how you take meaningful action to fight for gender equality in the labour market.”

TUC race relations committee chairwoman Gloria Mills told the Star: “Black workers and black women are at the sharp end of structural racism in the labour market.”

It was now time for unions “to step up the action to organise for a better deal for black workers that ends low pay, the racial pay gap and racial segregation in the labour market,” she added.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that over one million workers are now on zero-hours contracts. This equates to a rise of 40,000 on the previous year.

Overall, 4.7 per cent of black women are on zero-hours contracts and 4 per cent of black men.

Unions argue that such contracts make it hard for workers to plan their lives, look after their children and get to medical appointments.

Furthermore, they make it harder for workers to challenge unacceptable behaviour by bosses, the TUC added, because of a fear of victimisation in the allocation of future hours.

To help tackle this discrimination, the TUC is calling for a ban on zero-hours contracts by giving workers a right to a contract which reflects their normal working hours and mandates decent notice of shifts and compensation for cancelled ones.

The TUC is also demanding the introduction of ethnicity pay gap reporting to expose the pay inequalities faced by black workers.

Zita Holbourne of PCS said: “Structural racism is barring black women from more secure permanent employment and, if we do manage to get in, from any promotion and progression.

“All of this has been amplified by austerity measures and the pandemic.”

British Dietetic Association member and chairwoman of the TUC women’s committee Annette Mansell-Green said: “The fact that zero-hours contracts exist in this country is a scandal — they should be outlawed.”

The women’s conference was standing against such arrangements and for equality, security and “solidarity with our black sisters,” she added.

Ms O’Grady said it was time that the government published “its long-overdue employment Bill to ban exploitative practices like zero-hours contracts.”

Labour MP Kim Johnson, a former Unison black members activist before entering Parliament, told the Star that the data proves black women are “at the bottom of the heap in the labour market,” prompting the need for “a £15-per-hour national minimum wage, better terms and conditions and the ending of zero-hours contracts.”

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