Race Inequality in the Workplace

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2017 Water, Environment & Transport Conference
23 February 2017

Conference notes that despite efforts to bring further equality into society, evidence shows that Black workers are still being held back in the job market. The amount of Black members holding senior posts in the Water, Environment and Transport (WET) employers still remains low, unemployment amongst Black people remains high – particularly amongst young Black people – and Black workers are also more likely to be in less secure forms of employment than White workers.

In a recent report published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission titled, ‘Healing a divided Britain: the need for a comprehensive race equality strategy’, it is stated that a failure to tackle deep-rooted race inequality will exacerbate division in our society unless urgent action is taken. Hailed as the biggest ever review into race equality, the 73 page report looks at a number of aspects of everyday life including education, employment, housing, pay and living standards, health, criminal justice, and participation.

For our union, clearly it is important that we support our members both in and outside of the workplace, and how we respond to tackling widespread inequality must remain a priority.

In workplaces that inequality is still prevalent, Black workers with degrees earn 23.1% less on average than White workers, and a significantly lower percentage of Black members (8.8%) work as managers, directors and senior officers. Black workers are also in insecure forms of employment such as temporary contracts or working for an agency – this increased in the last 5 years by nearly 40% compared with a 16% rise for White workers.

Unemployment is also a huge challenge. The unemployment rate amongst Black people is at 12.9%, and for young Black people in particular there has been a significant increase of unemployment. Apprenticeship opportunities are significantly lower for Black people, and Black men and women experienced some of the largest falls in full-time employment since the recession began and as the austerity programme continues.

It is sometimes difficult in workplaces for Black members to feel able to challenge this ongoing inequality. Some members have advised that they will not challenge or seek recourse if they feel they have been passed over for promotion. In addition, as there is now no legal requirement to carry out an Equality Impact Needs Assessment when reorganising services, being able to challenge where and why changes are made and the impact these have on Black workers can often feel overwhelming.

Conference notes that Branches and Regions continue to challenge employers when reorganisations are proposed; however, it is clear that inequality exists in many walks of life, particularly in employment. As a union we have a proud tradition of supporting Black members, this is particularly seen in our Black members Self Organised Group.

Conference calls on the Water, Environment and Transport Service Group Executive to work with the National Black Members Committee (NBMC) to:

1)Produce material for Branches and Regions to use to highlight the continued gap between Black workers who hold senior positions compared to White workers, with keys points on how to tackle this in the workplace;

2)Encourage Regions to work with Branches to ensure that all employers complete Equality Impact Needs Assessments when carrying out reorganisations and to ensure Black members take a lead role in scrutinising these assessments together with representatives from other SOGs; and

3)Encourage Branches to work with Employers to seek to ensure more apprenticeship opportunities are open to Black people