Antiracism taskforce launched to tackle COVID’s impact on BME workers

Workers from Black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds have had to self-isolate at a much higher rate than white workers, according to a new report from the TUC.

The report showed that one in three (35%) BME workers in the UK have self-isolated this year compared to 24% of white workers.

While 49% of white workers said their employer had carried out a government-mandated COVID-Secure risk assessment, only 36% of BME workers said the same about their workplace.

Speaking to HR magazine, Sheree Atcheson, global director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at software company Peakon, said: “Senior leaders have a responsibility to speak up about findings like these. They have the platform to make a noise, push for change and educate employees. They must use this.”

The data adds to an increasing pool of information highlighting how social inequalities in the UK have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

For HR and business leaders, Atcheson added, such data creates an opportunity for them to look inwards and consider whether they too are part of the problem.

She said: “Business leaders need to collect more data on a range of measures, and interrogate that data to see if underrepresented groups are being unconsciously discriminated against.

“If some people feel less included or have a different working experience to others, leaders must share this information transparently and create an action plan to remedy it.”

Throughout the year, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has accused government of being careless when it comes to the UK’s BME population. In response the organisation has asked for more state support to alleviate the impact the pandemic has had on BME lives.

She said: “BME workers are more likely to be exposed to the virus, less likely to work in COVID-Secure workplaces, and therefore more likely to be plunged into hardship if they have to self-isolate.

“BME workers – and all workers – should be entitled to decent sick pay when they have to self-isolate, and to safe workplaces.

“The government should act to rid the UK of the low wage insecure jobs that keep many BME workers in poverty and put them at higher risk from the virus. And it should set out a real commitment to ending systemic racism and discrimination.”

To help tackle racism in the workplace the TUC has launched a new antiracism taskforce which will pool the experience of Black workers in the UK and make recommendations to help eradicate the issue in businesses and unions.

Taskforce chair Patrick Roach, general secretary at NASUWT, said: “The anti-racism task force will not hesitate to call out racial injustice wherever we find it. It will bring together a strong coalition to deliver a programme of measures to root out racism and tackle racial discrimination and injustice at work.”

Atcheson noted that there has been more effort placed into diversity and inclusion practices this year, however she urged leaders to ensure that initiatives are proactive and based on robust data.

She added: “That’s the only way that both diversity and inclusion can be embedded into a company’s DNA long-term.”

The TUC’s survey of BME workers was conducted by BritainThinks between the 19 and 29 November 2020 using a nationally representative sample of 2231 workers in England and Wales.