The TUC has warned that the coalition government plans to weaken equality laws by 2013 in a ruthless pursuit to please businesses at the expense of vulnerable groups such as black and minority ethnic (BME) workers.
BME Communities suffer most from government cuts
According to a TUC report titled, “Black Matters“, in August 2012, unemployment for young black men have doubled from 28.8% in 2008 to 55.9% towards the end of 2011, which is twice the rate of young white people. (P.4)
When I covered the annual TUC Black Workers’ Conference in 2011 (Read A bleak future for black and minority ethnic British workers says TUC conference), the TUC said that the unemployment rate for Black and Asian workers rose from 10.2 percent in October-December 2007, to 13 percent in the same period last year, a figure nearly twice as high than whites.
It was also mentioned that since 2007 the rate of unemployment among black women has ballooned to a massive 68 percent, and 24 percent among black males in just three years, and it was estimated that at least 127,000 Black and Asian workers will be on the dole as a result of the public sector cuts.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:
“Black workers are bearing the brunt of Britain’s jobs crisis. It’s a truly desperate situation, with the unemployment rate for workers from ethnic minority backgrounds almost twice the level for white workers.”
“It gets even worse for black youngsters – almost one in three are without work. That’s not just a terrible waste of talent, but evidence of persistent discrimination within the labour market.” (TUC: 8 April 2011)
Barber mentioned a serious point often overlooked by the mainstream media in Britain, that the high unemployment rate within BME communities shows a persistent pattern of racial discrimination in the job market which no government in office has seriously tackled.
Even when in employment BME workers face racial discrimination.
At the 2009 Black Worker’s Conference Leslie Manasseh, and Chair of the 2007 Black Worker’s Conference, said that once in employment BME) workers face racial barriers to job-related training, education and promotion.
In 2010 a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) titled, “How Fair is Britain?”, (Read New equality report reveals a racially unequal Britain) said “Recent research found that Black and Asian groups earn less than White British people with the same qualification level and in particular Black male graduates earn 24% less than White British male graduates.” (p.415)
The government agenda to weaken equality laws
The coalition government plans to remove provisions in the equality legislation which protects employees from third party harassment. According to the TUC, “This makes an employer liable for repeated racist, sexist, homophobic or other prejudice-based harassment of staff by third parties like service users, customers or clients, where the employer has failed to take reasonable steps to protect them.”
In sectors such as education, health, social care, transport and retail where racial abuse against BME workers is common this provision is vitally important to ensure that employers protect BME workers from racial harassment. A female Zimbabwean care worker, who worked in a residential home, told the TUC, “There’s a resident that can say, ‘I don’t want black people. Don’t touch me. You are black. Go back to your country‘.” In this incident her employer would be obligated to address the matter and ensure that the racist resident understood that behaviour like that would not be tolerated.
Yet the Ministers for Equality, Theresa May and Lynne Featherstone said that there is no need for this provision in the equality legislation.
The government also plans to get rid of the provision which gives powers to tribunals to recommend changes in a particular workplace where the employer has been found guilty of discrimination. This means that when found guilty of discrimination an employer will not be obligated to change work practices in order to protect other employees from experiencing the same discrimination.
The government also plans to get rid of the statutory discrimination questionnaire procedure, where an employee who feels that he/she has been discriminated against can seek information from their employer to see if they have discriminated against another employer before. This was an important provision to the original Race Relations Act 1976 and Sex Discrimination Act 1975, as it was very difficult to prove discrimination without some form of corroborating evidence. The Discrimination Law Association said, “Without the kind of information which individuals can only obtain through written questionnaires under s.138, in many cases it will be almost impossible to prove discrimination.“
The Assault on Equality: Budget Cuts to equality and voluntary race organisations
The TUC said that according to the Legal Services Research Centre, 62% of people who faced discrimination did not know their rights and disturbingly nearly 40% did nothing or tried and due to lack of advice abandoned their case.
Already, the Equality and Human Rights Comission faces budget cuts which has seriously effected their ability to tackle discrimination cases and provide advice.
Instead victims will have to turn to legal aid which in many cases is being withdrawn from employment, housing and social welfare by the government, so they will have nowhere to turn to.
Julie Bishop, Law Centres Federation, told the TUC, “The discrimination category that remains under legal aid will not replace the work done previously by Law Centres with EHRC funding. If you’re discriminated against you’re just going to have to put up with it – unless of course you can afford thousands of pounds to pay for legal advice.”
Pay As You Go Equality
What the government is planning is for a pay as you go equality culture where only those who can afford to fight their discrimination case will get help.
From 2013 it will cost £250 just to start a discrimination claim for a tribunal. It will cost a further £950 for a hearing, plus other tribunal expenses as the case progresses, and if an individual wants to appeal a tribunal decision, it will cost them £1,600 to attend the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
According to the TUC only 2 to 3% of discrimination cases are successful, so it is not hard to imagine how many individuals will decide to fight discrimination cases once these changes come into effect.
TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber said, “This is chequebook justice pure and simple. It is a profoundly regressive step… giving a green light to unscrupulous employers to discriminate at will.”
The government also plans to weaken the equality legislation which ensures that public bodies comply with the Race Relations Act.
Already many voluntary race organisations have been forced to close or suspend their services due to government budget cuts. Most notably, the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit (BRAMU) has had to close following crippling funding cuts by local authorities.
Founded in 1969 by Maxie Hayles, BRAMU has dealt with 30,000 inquiries and over 6,000 live cases. However, in 2010 the council withdrew its funding and the organisation has had to rely on church, community and trades union donations, but sadly it has not been enough to sustain the services.
Hayles said that it is important that there are independent racial organisations, yet one important factor he misses is that whilst BRAMU received funding from the government it was never truly independent.
Community members are now planning to set-up a new organisation which will include gender and disability as well as race.
A crucial time for BME communities to act!
If ever there has been a time where BME communities need to come together and act, it is now. The future of race relations in this country in the current economic climate is set to become hostile, and with the government’s plans to remove most of the legal protection BME communities had in employment there is an immediate need for voluntary race organisations funded by BME communities to be formed.
It is extremely crucial that race organisations that are formed by BME communities are not tied in any way to the government, this is the only way the organisation can remain truly independent and be a voice for the community that it represents.
If you are a member of an existing voluntary organisation or wish to form an organisation you can contact us with stories, ideas or just to share your thoughts on the way forward at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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