National delegates today underlined the union’s ongoing fight for the rights of its Black members, by passing three motions in the closing sessions of conference.
The first focussed on the ethnicity pay gap (EPG), which the union believes is a major cause of in-work poverty experienced by Black workers, and the cause of severe intergenerational inequality in Black communities.
The EPG is as high as 23.8% in London, with regional variations across the UK.
Although the government committed to asking large employers to publish information on their ethnicity pay gaps in its 2017 election manifesto, to date few companies have complied.
The introduction of mandatory monitoring of the EPG is an important measure needed to identify the disparities within the workforce and force employers to be accountable.
As one speaker told delegates: “Black workers and especially Black women continue to pay the price of being Black. Employers have to be called to account.”
Said another: “The ethnicity pay gap is a major cause of poverty. And it’s widening. Closing the gap would be great for business and would potentially boost the UK economy by £2m a year. But there’s still resistance.”
The motion calls on the national executive council to:
- make closing the EPG a priority in the union’s bargaining, organising and campaigning agendas;
- produce a UNISON toolkit to implement mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, and encourage branches to use it;
- request that Labour Link use its influence to persuade the Labour Party to commit to creating a statutory duty on all public service employers to annually report their EPG and take steps to address disparities experienced by their Black workers.
Proposing a motion on the effects of the cost of living crisis on Black workers, Lola Oyewusi of the national Black members’ committee (main picture, above) told delegates: “Black workers and members continue to face significant hardship.
“There are more food banks today than McDonald’s. And millions of people, especially Black workers, are using food banks for everyday living. Their children are struggling, because their parents have to make a decision: do I put the heating on, or do I use the little money I have to buy food for my family.
“The energy companies are making huge profits,” she continued. “The water companies are making huge profits. The cost of living crisis is a political decision.”
Ms Oyewusi added that many Black members have been on the picket lines this year, and “deserve to be paid as well as other people.”
Jacqueline Wallis said that the cost of living crisis was having a “disproportionate effect” on Black people, especially Black women, parents and those with a disability.
And Chris Akaluka (pictured above) observed the co-relationship between low-paid and outsourced workers, adding that Black workers were most likely to be outsourced.
“The monster is outsourcing. It’s divisive and it has a racial undertone. We must support insourcing, with the right terms and conditions,” he said.
Delegates called on the NEC to provide material to branches and regions that both highlights inequalities, and shares valuable lessons from campaigns against racism inside and outside the workplace – for example where Black workers have organised and taken action against low pay or to return inhouse.
Drawing these many themes together was a motion that marked the midway point of UNISON’s 2023 Year of Black Workers – and acted as a stimulus for continued action.
The year has been an opportunity to celebrate the union’s long history of challenging racism in the workplace, to come up with practical steps for further change.
Proposing the motion, Jason Pierre of Coventry and Warwickshire Combined Healthcare branch said: “We are hoping to establish a legacy, to introduce things that will help us better understand the needs of Black members.”
This includes a campaign toolkit for branches, which will aid their organising around Black member issues.
Lola Oyewusi said that the year was one “we can never forget”, which was both celebrating the contributions of the union’s Black members and setting down a legacy of organising and good practice “so that those coming behind us have a platform to stand on.”
She also addressed every delegate in the hall when she said: “We are all one.”
Annette Heslop agreed that “intersectionality is key” and that Black members needed “white allies” in their fight for equality.
The motion stated that “it is only by having broader conversations together, about how deep-rooted racism is in society, that it can be eradicated.”
It called on the NEC and the national Black members’ committee to:
- continue to promote the Year of Black Workers;
- work with all parts of the union to freshly consider their work programmes from a Black member perspective;
- encourage all parts of the union to hold appropriate events to celebrate the Year of the Black Worker;
- gather Black members’ experience of work and public services wherever possible;
- continue to campaign to close the ethnicity pay gap.