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TUC 2020 Collective action in the trade union movement is needed to tackle racism at work

COLLECTIVE action in the trade-union movement is needed to tackle racism at work, a fringe meeting at TUC conference heard today.

The meeting, organised by the Centre for Labour & Social Studies (Class) and the TUC black members committee (BMC), heard from shadow women & equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova, Unison’s Gloria Mills, Business in the Community director Sandra Kerr and War on Want director Asad Rehman. 

Ms de Cordova warned that the government had held many reviews on racial inequality in the last three years but had failed to implement recommendations. 

The Labour MP said: “We urgently need to see greater representation [in institutions] from workplaces to education and also our trade-union movement, and there needs to be a culture change around that.

“Racism is systemic and will require systemic solutions. We need a strategy that will tackle the institutions where this racial disparity exists.”

Ms Mills, who is the chairwoman of TUC BMC, spoke on how racism at work was a public-health issue, highlighting how the pandemic has shown the vulnerability of black workers and the potency of racism.

She said: “Black workers have had their concerns disregarded [when being] reallocated and deployed on the front line to battle Covid … having to learn as quick as possible.

“We can do a lot more in the trade-union movement. We need to step up and speak up more to protect black workers.

“Black workers should not have to fight as individuals. We have to use the collective movement and the laws to protect these workers.”

Ms Kerr called for “allyship” for times when black voices are not available in conversations and key decision-making tables.

Mr Rehman said that the struggle for racial equality has to be international, highlighting how the global south has been forced to continue repaying debt repayments while struggling with the pandemic.

In a study by the TUC in July, one in five BME workers said that they received unfair treatment because of their ethnicity.

About one in six BME workers felt that they had been put more at risk of exposure to coronavirus because of their ethnic background. Many reported being forced to do front-line work that white colleagues had refused to do.

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

Over a third reported being unfairly turned down for a job and about a quarter had been singled out for redundancy.

One in seven of those that had been harassed said that they left their job because of the racist treatment that they had received.

Previous TUC analysis has found that black and minority-ethnic 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.

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