This week I chaired the first meeting in thenew Parliamentary session of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community. The subject of the event was ‘Tackling racism in the workplace: perspectives from COVID-19’.

I was joined by four excellent panelists: Wilf Sullivan, Race Equality Officer at the TUC; Shavanah Taj, Wales’ first Black TUC General Secretary; Michelle Codrington- Rogers, the first Black President of the NASUWT (2020- 2021 term); and Harish Patel, National officer for equalities, Unite the Union.

The COVID 19 outbreak has shone a spotlight and exacerbated the deep rooted inequalities  that already existed across society for all workers  – but in particular – for Black workers.

Our Black communities were at the forefront of this crisis, many stepping up and doing valuable work helping others – us – in key worker roles.

But from the beginning of the pandemic, our varied black communities were left overexposed and under-protected: more likely to catch the virus and become seriously ill from it.

In the first wave of the crisis Black men and women were four times more likely to die of Covid-19 than their white counterparts.

These disparities have been reflected in the workplace too, where Covid-19 is shown to have a disproportionate impact on Black employees in the workplace. We know:

  • Black and minority ethnic workers often work in insecure jobs with fewer rights at work which puts them at the dual risk of contracting COVID19 and of job loss.
  • In addition, Black workers are overrepresented in key worker roles with higher COVID- 19 death rates, such as carers, nurses and drivers.
  • And we know that one in six Black workers told the TUC that they felt they had been put more at risk of exposure to coronavirus because of their ethnic background.

But even before the pandemic workplace discrimination was rife in terms of pay, conditions, promotions, harassment and even the chances of redundancy.

This is what we now need from the government:

  • The government must publish a cross departmental action plan, with clear targets and a timetable for delivery, to tackle the inequalities that Black  people face, including in work, health, education and justice
  • It must simultaneously strengthen the role of the Race Disparity Unit to properly equip it to support delivery of this action plan
  • The government must introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting and make employers publish action plans to ensure fair treatment for BME workers in the workplace
  • The government should ban zero-hours contracts, and strengthen the rights of insecure workers
  • The government must publish all the equality impact assessments related to its response to Covid-19 and be fully transparent about how it considers BME communities in its policy decisions

The APPG Race and Community is hosted by the Runnymede Trust.

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