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Report Reveals Deep Racism in UK, 120,000 Workers Quit in Last 5 Years

One in five Black and Minority Ethnic workers faced racist remarks or were bullied or harassed at workplace, a TUC survey has revealed.
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Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Flickr

The United Kingdom’s (UK) largest survey about the experiences of its 3.9 million Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers has revealed that more than 120,000 of them quit after one in five (21%) faced racist remarks or were bullied or harassed at workplace in the last five years.

The survey, carried out by Number Cruncher Politics for the Trade Union Congress’s (TUC) Anti-Racism Taskforce, also found that more than one in four (27%) BME workers experienced racist jokes or banter or felt uncomfortable at workplace due to their colleagues/clients/customers using stereotypes or commenting on their appearance.

The survey, based on a sample of 1,750 BME workers, found that two in five (41%) employees faced racism at work, which spiked to more than half (52%) in the 25-34 age group and nearly three in five (58%) in the 18-24 age category.

Racism at workplace had long-term impact on such workers, the survey found. One in 13 (8%) quit, more than one in three (35%) felt less confident at work, 34% felt embarrassed and 31% had a negative impact on their mental health. Around one in four (26%) of workers wanted to quit because but continued working due to financial or other factors.

In 38% of the cases, the most common harasser was a colleague, (17%) a direct manager or someone else with direct authority and 15% a customer, client or patient.

Incidents of racial discrimination ranged from children asking a teacher with a non-British accent about her country of origin to people being told to “go back to your country”, The Guardian reported.

“This report lifts the lid on racism in UK workplaces. It shines a light on the enormous scale of structural and institutional discrimination BME workers face,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

According to the survey, a British-Indian woman worker “couldn’t take her food” to the workplace because colleagues told her it “smelled”. “So, I started taking cheese and tomato sandwiches to work. I remember going to a job interview and not getting the job, and later being told the company didn’t want front facing staff wearing ‘funny clothes’.” 
Around half (49%) of workers experienced, at least, one form of discrimination consistent with institutional racism.

A British-Bangladeshi employed with a supermarket was at the “receiving end of systematic racism from a group of managers”. “They made my life difficult by giving me unrealistic tasks without providing any support. They had unrealistic expectations of me compared to my other colleagues and did not appreciate the hard work I did,” he said.

Similarly, a British-Caribbean lecturer “experienced racist abuse from members of staff and students”. “I drive a nice car and one member of staff asked me if I was a drug dealer because how else could I afford to drive the car I drive? I have been asked on numerous occasions if people can touch my hair.” Once, when she was sunburnt, somebody asked, “How on earth can you be sunburnt when you’re Black already?”. She has been “called a N*** on more than one occasion. I have reported these incidents and been told it’s because of the area of the country we live in, which is predominantly white”.

One in seven (14%) workers reported facing unfair criticism in the last five years, one in nine (11%) got an unfair performance assessment, 1 in 13 (8%) were unfairly disciplined at work and 1 in 14 (7%) were subjected to excessive surveillance or scrutiny, the survey revealed.

Besides, one in eight (12%) of BME workers were denied promotions, one in eight (12%) were given harder or less popular work tasks compared to their white colleagues and around 1 in 11 (9%) had their requests for training and development opportunities turned down.

“It is “disgraceful that in 2022, racism still determines who gets hired, trained, promoted—and who gets demoted and dismissed,” O’Grady said.

Not surprisingly, only one in five (19%) had reported the most recent incident to their employer due to the fear of spoiling their working relationship with colleagues or believed that they won’t be taken seriously.

More than two in five (44%) didn’t report such incidents because they didn’t believe they would be taken seriously and one in four (25%) were worried about the impact on their working relationship with colleagues.

Of those who reported such incidents, almost half (48%) were not satisfied with how they were handled and around 1 in 14 (7%) said that reporting such racist incidents worsened their treatment at workplace.

I have never reported a racist incident because I have always been afraid that I would lose my job. Over the years, you just put it to the back of your mind because you just want to get on with work, you just want to have a job to put food on the table and a roof over your head, and if you start creating waves, you worry you will end up with nothing,” the British-Indian woman recounting her fears.

The British-Bangladeshi worker too “suffered in silence” for a few years. “There were many times I felt like leaving my job because it was starting to affect me mentally.” Finally, he found the confidence to speak up. “I started having one-to-one informal conversations with some of those managers concerned in a polite and professional way.”

One manager admitted to the British-Bangladeshi worker that “when he was young, an Asian boy had taken a football off him and punched him in the face, and since then he had a negative mindset towards all Asian people.” He made the managers “aware that no one deserves to be treated unfairly because of their background or religious beliefs”.

Several of the respondents “experienced racist bullying, harassment—and worse. And alarmingly, the vast majority did not report this to their employer,” O’Grady said. “Others said that ‘hidden’ institutional racism affected their day-to-day working life, from not getting training and promotion opportunities, to being given less popular shifts and holidays.”

Halima Begum, CEO, Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank, told The Guardian that the findings showed many employers lacked “accountable structures supporting employees to report racist incidents”.

Without adequate action from employers, the pervasiveness of racism mounts, and it’s this lack of accountability which tips any single accusation within a workplace from an individual ‘bad apple’ to an institutional problem,” Begum added.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which represents human resources professionals, said it is a “stark reminder that far too many black and minority ethnic workers still face discrimination in the workplace on a regular basis”.

Pointing out the lack of “racial and ethnic equality across society”, Matthew Percival, director for skills and inclusion, Confederation of British Industry, asked businesses to “build an inclusive workplace and tackle discrimination”.

NASUWT, which leads the TUC’s Anti-Racism Taskforce, said that the report is a further “damning evidence of a labour market that is unequal, unfair and highly discriminatory.”

Patrick Roach, general secretary, NASUWT, and chair of the taskforce said, “Racial injustice at work is damaging lives and holding back the economic recovery the UK desperately needs. Despite 50 years of legislation to outlaw race discrimination at work, the situation facing black workers today appears to be going from bad to worse.”

The TUC has called on the government to work with trade unions and employers to ensure that employers have a duty to take action to prevent racism at work. “Bosses must ensure that they take measurable steps to prevent situations in which their employees are at risk of encountering racism,” it said.

Demanding “swift and effective penalties when workers experience racism”, the TUC said, “It is vital that any forms of alleged harassment and bullying are dealt with seriously and swiftly.

Roach asked for “urgent action from the government to create a level playing field for all workers, backed up with stronger workplace rights and robust enforcement measures—and a positive statutory duty on all employers to identify and root out racial disparities at work”.

A government spokesperson said, “Our inclusive Britain action plan sets out plans to build a fairer and more inclusive society, including promoting fairness in the workplace and action to tackle the ethnicity pay gap.”

Terming the report as a “wake-up call”, O’Grady said, “Ministers need to change the law so that employers are responsible for protecting their workers and preventing racism at work. And employers must be clear they have a zero-tolerance policy towards racism—and that they will support all staff who raise concerns about racism or who are subjected to racial abuse.”

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