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Unite Equalities Conference Austerity has hurt disabled and ethnic minority workers

HARISH PATEL writes on how Unite is working with both communities in the fight for workers' rights

UNITE black, Asian, ethnic minority (BAEM) workplace reps and activists from every region representing all industrial sectors in our union will come together this week in Blackpool.

We will be debating and formulating the union’s strategy and campaigns on race equality for the next two years at our biennial national BAEM conference. 

Unite is firmly committed to all equalities and particularly to eliminating harassment and discrimination experienced in the workplace.

We are formulating actions to be embedded in our industrial strategy to tackle inequalities and injustice in the workplace, our communities and society as a whole.

Racism continues to feature on a regular basis in our daily lives and it does not matter where we are, whether at work or in our communities.  We have seen report after report with no tangible action to address these horrendous incidents. 

This reckless government stirred hatred in society and black people have to bear the brunt every day.

Our research shows austerity is hitting BAEM and disabled workers the hardest.

The Prime Minister claims that she wants to remedy injustice in society and yet she has failed to come up with any positive action to eliminate the brutality of harassment and discrimination faced by our members.

In fact the government has slashed the funding of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is yet another slap in the face of our black and disabled members.

Delegates at the national BAEM conference are debating motions from across the regions, from lack of job opportunities to recruitment and selection processes, which are creating barriers for young BAEM in the job market.  

We are formulating our strategy on the impact of automation on the jobs and livelihood of our black members, as automation will be hitting many industries with a high concentration of BAEM workers, for example passenger transport and food processing.

Our reps are already working with major employers like Rolls Royce to explore modern apprenticeships that are tailored and available for the new generation of skills which will be required in preparation for automation.  

This is a positive step towards ensuring young black workers are given the opportunity to enter the labour market. It opens up the gate for other employers to set up similar schemes. 

We know that black workers are more likely to be union members and organising and recruiting BAEM workers is vital for our union.

We also recognise the new gig economy and know that black workers are more likely to take up work in these areas. We are debating new strategies and methods of organising in this form of precarious and insecure employment. 

Action on Brexit is absolutely necessary and we are making sure that black workers do not pay the price for leaving the EU.

We are extremely concerned at the rise of nationalism in Britain and internationally. 

Our international speakers from United Steel Workers are sharing experiences of their struggle in the United States and Canada, and we as trade unionists are learning from these stories and showing our solidarity.

At our disabled members conference we are debating motions on mental health, a major issue for our members.

Preventing mental ill health is a Unite priority campaign. We are deciding on actions to prevent stress in the workplace in the first instance and placing emphasis on the employer’s responsibilities and obligations.

The tendency of employers is to dismiss or release our members on grounds of ill-health instead of dealing with disabled workers needs.

Unite has been campaigning for a social model of disability for many years “to fit the worker to the job and not the job to the worker.”

Not only was this the theme of our disability history month but also a workshop is dedicated to discuss practical ways of ensuring that this is firmly featured in our negotiating agenda with employers. 

We want our disabled members to have access to well-paid and decent jobs and to be able to retain them.

Recruitment and retention has been a major issue for our disabled members with the need for better funded access to work and a firm commitment from employers to implement reasonable adjustments.

We are looking to change the political emphasis to ensure that disabled workers talents are recognised and they are given the opportunity to continue their contribution in the labour market.

We are committed to work with employers who are willing to ensure that discrimination and harassment is eradicated in the workplace and positive action is taken where we have under-representation.

This week, above all, we will be reasserting the importance of collective bargaining in delivering for fairness, respect and dignity at work for all our members.  

Harish Patel is Unite’s national officer for equalities, BAEM, disabled members, and metals and foundries.

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