Challenging racism in the workplace

UNISON’s Black members have the same concerns as any other member about jobs, fair pay and conditions of service, promotion and progression, but their experience of the workplace is too often also marked by racism and discrimination.

Equality legislation gives trade unions a way of holding employers to account – but equality can only become a reality in our workplaces if we organise.


Racist discrimination can prevent Black workers from having equal access to good-quality jobs and pay.

This manifests itself in the workplace most obviously through bullying and harassment, but structures and processes can also disadvantage Black workers.

Patterns of discrimination that highlight the over-concentration of Black workers in the lowest rungs of organisations, as well as over-representation in disciplinaries, grievances and redundancies, might not be immediately visible.

But appropriate information-gathering and monitoring can help to reveal the issue.

For black Caribbean families, the public sector is a source of stability and employment. If you see jobs going in the public sector, then the impact will be particularly severe on black women. You will see their advance disappear.

Rob Berkeley,

director of the Runnymede Trust, The Guardian

Dealing with discrimination

Dealing with discrimination is not just about supporting a worker who wishes to pursue their grievance through formal procedures.

The root cause may lie in the actions of a manager or other workers, the culture of the workplace, a particular policy or the failure to enforce an anti-racist strategy.

All these issues could lead to racist behaviour not being adequately challenged. They also increase the risk that Black workers will continue to experience discrimination.

Challenging racism

Challenging racism in the workplace is part of UNISON’s core work on race equality, using the collective power of our union to tackle discrimination.

We want to move away from dealing with racism on an individual basis in favour of a more collective approach.

To achieve this, UNISON is working through our regions to train our branch negotiators to identify key issues and make sure that challenging racism becomes core union business for all activists and officers.

As UNISON and its members organise to defend public services against the government’s austerity programme, challenging racism is as important as ever.

Black workers and their communities have been disproportionately affected by the recession and are hit hard again when public services are attacked.