Race equality in the UK is going backwards, says conference

Delegates have grim view of progress despite 50 years of race relations legislation

UNISON is calling on the current and future governments to renew a commitment to race equality at work and in the wider society.

The demand comes as the UK is gripped by “an increasingly toxic debate around migration and race, creating an even more hostile environment for migrant and Black workers”, national conference delegates heard in Brighton.

In a debate asking “How far have we come?” in the 50 years since the first Race Relations Act was amended in 1968, the resounding answer from delegates was negative.

“It looks like we have not come far at all – but have gone back,” said Jackie Wallace of Camden local government.

Ms Wallace spoke of the disproportionate number of Black workers suffering from job cuts and disciplinary procedures.

Janet Maiden of University College Hospital branch said that despite the diversity of NHS workers, many Black and ethnic minority workers were stuck in lower bands.

And Sandra Okwara of the national Black members’ committee told delegates that findings showed Black people were earning less than white people, were less likely to win top jobs and more likely to live in poverty.

Of 18,500 university professors in the UK, she said, only 85 were Black.

Ms Okwara also cited the riots that followed the 1976 Race Relations Act as an example of discrimination continuing despite legislation.

And Ms Maiden added: “When a government can treat the Windrush generation in the way they have, it allows racism to flourish.”

As well as its demands to government, the conference called on the union to:

  • engage with self-organised groups and the national service groups to highlight the issues and promote the Challenging Racism in the Workplace guidance and training for branches and regions;
  • highlight the issues with the Labour Party;
  • use reports that highlight race inequalities in the workplace to hold public bodies to account;
  • call on the union’s strategic organising unit to develop its work with LGBT migrants;
  • continue to campaign against all forms of racism and discrimination in the workplace and wider community.

“As Black people, our resolve is to fight back, and to retain our commitment to speak out against racism and injustice,” declared Ms Okwara