Race equalities organisations join forces with the TUC to slam Strikes Bill’s impact on BME workers

The Strikes Bill (Minimum Service Levels) will be a huge step backwards for tackling racism at work in Britain

7 Mar 2023| News

The TUC, the Equality Trust, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Runnymede Trust have today (Tuesday) warned that the Strikes Bill will be a huge step backwards for tackling racism at work in Britain.

The Strikes Bill is set to go to the House of Lords at the end of this month. If passed, the Bill will mean that when workers lawfully vote to strike in health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning, they could be forced to attend work – and sacked if they don’t comply.

The organisations say that Black and minority ethnic (BME) workers are overrepresented in sectors affected by the legislation, and as a result, disproportionately hit by the bill.

BME workers represent 15% of the total workforce. But are significantly overrepresented in two key sectors – health (24%) and transport (21%) – affected by the legislation.

The TUC adds that BME workers could be unfairly targeted for dismissal by unscrupulous employers, given the discrimination and racism in “every corner of the labour market”.

Institutional racism in the labour market

The TUC, the Equality Trust, JCWI and Runnymede Trust say that BME workers are already at the sharp end of a labour market rife with discrimination.

The organisations add that the “last thing” BME workers need is legislation which tilts the balance of power even further towards the employer and away from them”.

TUC analysis shows BME workers are overrepresented on insecure contracts – BME women twice as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men.

And recent TUC research exposed institutional racism at work that hits BME workers – like being more likely to be unfairly disciplined at work or being passed over for promotion.

Half (49%) of BME workers told the TUC they had experienced at least one form of discrimination consistent with institutional racism:

  • 1 in 7 (14%) BME workers reported facing unfair criticism in the last five years.
  • 1 in 9 (11%) said they were given an unfair performance assessment.
  • 1 in 13 (8%) told the TUC they were unfairly disciplined at work.
  • 1 in 14 (7%) said they have been subjected to excessive surveillance or scrutiny.
  • 1 in 8 (12%) of BME workers said they were denied promotions.
  • 1 in 8 (12%) of BME workers reported being given harder or less popular work tasks than white colleagues.
  • And around 1 in 11 (9%) told the TUC they had their requests for training and development opportunities turned down.

Bargaining for better pay and conditions 

The TUC warns attacking the right to strike will hit BME workers’ wages by undermining their ability to win a better deal at work.

The government’s own advice says minimum service levels could hurt workers across the economy – hitting workers’ pay packets.

It also says minimum service levels in transport could lead to “relatively greater adverse impacts” on lower paid workers.

The TUC says this means BME workers will be hit disproportionately given they are overrepresented in lower paid jobs, on outsourced contracts and in insecure work.

The union body says the potential hit to workers’ pay from the strikes bill can be seen in the many recent examples of workers winning better pay and conditions after taking industrial action.

For example, a recent Unison win is set to see more than 600 cleaning and porter jobs at two Liverpool hospitals brought in-house which will improve pay and terms for hundreds of staff.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“This Bill is a huge step backwards for tackling racism at work. Ministers are launching a brazen attack on the right to strike – a fundamental British liberty. And it is Black and ethnic minority workers – who are already at the sharp end of a labour market rife with discrimination – that could be hit hardest.

Too often BME workers are paid less for doing the same job as their white colleagues, too often they are on insecure contracts and too often they are unfairly disciplined at work. The last thing BME workers need is legislation which tilts the balance of power away from them and towards the employer.

This draconian legislation would mean that when workers democratically vote to strike, they could be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply. Institutional racism blights workplaces in every corner of the country. This legislation could give another opportunity for unscrupulous employers to target BME workers. It’s time for ministers to drop this spiteful Bill.

“It will hit BME workers disproportionately. It’s undemocratic, unworkable and almost certainly illegal. And it will likely poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes rather than help resolve them.”

Jo Wittams, Co-Executive Director at the Equality Trust, said: “Evidence shows that BME workers face higher levels of insecure work, with half reporting workplace discrimination.

“For BME workers, being threatened with the sack for speaking up for their rights will be all too familiar. It will be a huge betrayal for the government to write losing your job for standing up for your rights into law. Instead of undermining BME workers it is clear that the government needs to look at real solutions to the UK’s inequality crisis.”

JCWI Policy and Advocacy Manager Caitlin Boswell said:

“The right to strike is a vital tool that allows workers to push for better pay and conditions. And happily, over the past few years, we’ve seen more and more migrant workers win fairer contracts and wages by exercising this right.

What this government’s anti-strike laws would do is effectively crush this right for migrant workers, who are over-represented in sectors like health and transport, and who are disproportionately people of colour.

We know that racialised migrant workers already fear reporting abuse and exploitation at work because of this government’s hostile immigration policies. Adding this new, targeted anti-strike legislation to the mix is yet another attack on Black and brown working people’s right to speak out.

If we had a government who cared about fairness or equality, what we would be seeing is the introduction of stronger – not weaker – protections for workers in the UK, so that we are all able to report abuse, demand decent pay, and win better conditions, regardless of the colour of our skin or where we were born.”