Race for Equality

It’s time for a serious conversation about racism in the NHS. Our Race for Equality campaign is equipping UNISON branches to get active and tackle racism in the workplace.

More than 70 years after it was founded the NHS continues to rely on staff from all round the world, and generations of Black staff have made the NHS what it is today.

Read our COVID-19 advice for Black health workers

Yet many Black staff in the NHS still face the injustice of racism and inequality at work every day.

“If you ask most black people the honest truth is we experience this everyday –  there is nothing we can do about it. We can’t complain everyday you just get on with it.”

We want to help staff recognise and challenge racism in the workplace. We will support staff, and help them support each other as we work together to take on racism and deliver an NHS that respects and values all staff.

In UNISON, equality is part of our DNA. Challenging discrimination and winning equality are fundamental to everything we do.

NHS staff are there to help everyone in every community and treat them with respect, dignity and fairness. UNISON believes they should expect the same treatment in return.

We will not stand by while Black staff in the NHS continue to face the injustice of racism and inequality at work. Racial discrimination is not only wrong – it is against the law. It wastes talent, damages staff, hurts patients, and holds the NHS back.

“If you say someone is being racist, immediately you are the problem”

Racism in numbers

  • 19% of the workforce are Black* but only 7% of senior managers are Black
  • White applicants are 1.45 times more likely to be appointed from shortlisting than Black applicants
  • Black staff are 1.24 times more likely to enter formal disciplinary process
  • 28% of Black staff experienced harassment bullying or abuse from other staff in last 12 months, compared with 23% of white staff
  • Only 72% of Black staff believe their employer provides equal opportunities for career progression/promotion, compared with 87% of white staff.

(Figures from the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) 2018. The WRES data uses Black and Minority Ethnic (BME). UNISON uses the more political and inclusive term Black.)

These figures are for England – this data is not collected in the same way in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but there is no reason to think the pattern would be significantly different in any country.

News story from UNISON Cymru/Wales: two-thirds of Black NHS workers have experienced racism at work

“Overly supervised; micromanaged, what I was doing always had a problem with it”

What you can do

  • Don’t suffer in silence – if you think it might be racism it probably is – talk to your UNISON branch about what’s been happening
  • Get involved in UNISON’s Black members network
  • Challenge anything that you experience or witness makes you feel uncomfortable (eg abusive language, name calling, ‘banter’/’jokes’, mimicry etc)
  • Challenge racist posts on social media
  • Talk to your branch about organising training or workshops on how best to tackle racism
  • Be part of the conversation about racism – listen to others or tell your own story

How far has your branch got in the race for equality?

If you’re just at the starting line here are some immediate actions branches can take:

1. COVID-19:

Read our guidance on risk assessments for Black workers and review the NHS unions’ risk assessment principles. Ask your employer for regular consultation about implementation and review of risk assessment and reduction measures for Black staff.

Consider the impact these actions have had on staff, for example have staff been redeployed to roles that could affect their pay or career prospects? If so how can this be addressed? Ask for monitoring of COVID-19 sickness and self-isolation levels for Black staff to see if the risk reduction measures are working.

2. Improve skills and training:

Talk to your regional education officer about organising training for your activists to develop skills in having conversations about racism, supporting members and challenging racism in all its forms. Read about the training that one branch benefitted from here

3. Bullying and harassment:

Ask your employer to ensure that it has an effective policy and protocols for preventing and dealing with racist behaviour from patients and their visitors/families. You can read here about the award-winning work one branch did to challenge racist abuse in the workplace.

4. Disciplinary action:

Monitor your own branch casework, check how many disciplinary cases involving Black workers your branch is dealing with and look for patterns for particular groups or in particular teams/settings – for example particular shifts, or a concentration of issues among Bank or agency staff.

5. Recruitment and career progression

Work with employers for an end to end review and update of recruitment and selection processes checking for where bias can creep in at every stage.

This includes where and how posts are advertised; assessment and scoring processes; and composition and diversity of interview panels. Where Black staff are shortlisted but not appointed ask for accountability measures to be put in place to scrutinise these outcomes.

Call out ‘tap on the shoulder’ type informal practices such as internal expressions of interest which mean opportunities only go to a narrow circle of staff.

You can find more detail on these and other actions branches can take in the resources at the bottom of this page

Download our Race for Equality branch briefing and leaflet below. You can order hard copies of the leaflet from our shop.

Download our Race for Equality branch briefing and leaflet in the Resources section below. You will also find guides to help you plan work on particular topics such as tackling racism within disciplinary processes; recruitment and career progression; and racial bullying and harassment. You can order hard copies of the leaflet from our shop.

Watch Show Racism the Red Card‘s film Challenging Racism in the Workplace.

Race for Equality case studies

Here you’ll find a selection of case studies showing how branches have dealt with racism in the workplace. 

Read more