Challenging Racism, defending public services

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2012 Local Government Service Group Conference
23 February 2012

Conference notes with deep concern new research by UNISON on the disproportionate impact of public services cuts on Black workers. This research, conducted as part of UNISON’s Challenging Racism in the Workplace, and piloted in Greater London late last year, showed that Black employees in Local Government were paying the price for public service cuts with their jobs.

Conference believes that this research shows that local authorities, facing some of the largest budget cuts in living memory by the Tory-led government are shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. UNISON’s FOI research reveals that in 17 of the capital’s councils, Black workers are unfairly bearing the brunt of the cuts.

In one council, Black workers made up just 31% of the workforce but 63% of the redundancies. Black women are being disproportionately affected in 12 London local authorities, with Black women in one council constituting just 5% of the workforce but 23% of the redundancies.

Conference is alarmed at the scale of the damage being done to some of the most vulnerable groups in our workplaces and believes that it goes beyond the stark figures of disproportionate impact. The research reveals that even in councils where no disproportionate impact is being felt by Black workers there is a heavy cost to the Black community, with hundreds of jobs being lost. Decades of work to introduce fair employment practices and the resulting diversity of our workforce are now being damaged.

Conference is alarmed that equality legislation, including equality impact assessments are failing to prevent the discriminatory impact being experienced by Black workers. Councils which reported the use of equality impact assessments (EIAs) before and after redundancies and reorganisations were clearly failing to use them to prevent unequal impact. Conference believes that there is a danger that some employers are using EIAs to enable a discriminatory outcome, not to prevent it. The meaningful conduction of EIAs would have alerted employers to the clear pattern of discrimination that they subsequently reported to UNISON. This is a betrayal of Black employees, who have devoted their working lives to build decent public services for all.

Conference believes this pilot research is illustrative of the situation across the UK and reflects the experience of UNISON’s Black members during 2010-2011. With the biggest tranche of council job losses looming in 2012, Conference believes that this research should be extended across other regions in order to support the work of branches in fighting cuts and defending public services.

Conference welcomes further research being done by UNISON in partnership with the Runnymede Trust, the TUC and other trade unions on the wider equality impact of public service cuts and believes that this will supplement and support UNISON’s campaign.

Conference asserts that these shocking findings underlines the importance of bargaining and negotiating for equality in the workplace and underlines the need to engage with ‘Challenging Racism in the Workplace’. It will enable UNISON to identify workplaces where racist discrimination is tolerated and use our collective power to bargain and negotiate for equality. Engaging in this work, together with the meaningful implementation of the Race Discrimination Claims protocol will enable real changes to be made for UNISON’s Black members.

Conference calls upon the Local Government Service Group Executive to work with the National Black members committee in order to:

1)Support negotiating and bargaining on race equality as a key part of UNISON’s work in fighting budget cuts;

2)Explore the possibility of a legal challenge to the discriminatory practices being uncovered by UNISON’s research, including an approach to the EHRC;

3)Highlight the disproportionate impact on Black workers in Local Government within UNISON’s campaigns to defend public services;

4)Seek to ensure that branches are engaging with ‘Challenging Racism in the workplace’ and are accessing the new resources that have been produced on fighting cuts and negotiating for equality.