Taking year of Black workers into the heart of government

On 21 February, Bill Acharjee from the Black members committee attended a cross party roundtable event in Portcullis House aimed at combatting racism

2023 saw the launch of UNISON’s ‘Year of Black Workers’ campaign with Margaret Greer, UNISON National Officer for Race Equality, putting out a call for ten Black Members Officers to attend a parliamentary round table at the House of Westminster.

The event was hosted by Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Labour MP for Streatham) and with several other MP’s in attendance who all sympathise and want to progress UNISON’s campaigns around the Ethnicity Pay Gap (EPG), Cost-of-Living, justice for the Windrush Generation, immigration and the hostile environment, so I jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

The session started with MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy setting the scene and welcoming guests, and explaining the importance of making EPG reporting mandatory and highlighted the work of UNISON’s campaign to date:

  • UNISON campaign around the issue of the ethnicity pay gap started in September 2021, centring on making EPG reporting mandatory, in partnership with Dianne Greyson’s Ethnicity Pay Gap UK Campaign1.
  • In February 2022, the Women and Equalities Committee published a new report2 clearly stating that the EPG should be mandatory and urging the government to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting by April 2023 for all organisations that currently report for gender. However, In May 2022, the Government published a response to the Women and Equality Committee’s report stating that they would not bring ethnicity pay gap reporting into legislation, due to the difficulties they could foresee with collecting the data.
  • Government guidance for employers on EPG reporting, which was due to be published in summer 2022, will now come out some point in 2023.

The next speaker to address the event was Gloria Mills, UNISON Equalities National Secretary, who explained that UNISON has been calling to make EPG Reporting mandatory since September 2020 in partnership with Dianne Greyson’s Ethnicity Pay Gap UK Campaign. Gloria said that she believes more needs to be done to support the campaign, and highlighted that the EPG is a symptom of systemic racism and discrimination within the labour market, with the Resolution Foundation finding that the ethnicity pay gap cost 1.9 million black workers £3.2 billion in lost wages in 2018. She also argued that the pandemic disproportionately affected Black workers and communities.

It was also highlighted that the EPG in the Greater London area is somewhere in the region of 17 – 25% between Black and white workers. 2023 is the Year of Black Workers and we need to keep highlighting the need for mandatory EPG reporting and further calls for practical steps for change to progress this campaign and address the pay gap, its causes and its effects.

Anneliese Dodds, Labour MP for Oxford East, spoke next and explained that EPG reporting should be easy for any organisation to administer because it will follow the same process as the gender pay gap reporting procedures. Anneiese explained that the Labour party led by example and have been publishing the EPG for some time. The MP also shared her thoughts about how being transparent about workforce diversity data is beneficial to employers because analysing the diversity of workforces and other equality-related data can help employers to identify any biases, barriers or discrimination (direct or indirect) that might give rise to patterns of inequality.

The Chair opened the floor for the UNISON activists to ask questions, and many took the opportunity to quiz the MPs in attendance – including myself. 

I asked about a recent TUC report, which highlighted the enormous structural and institutional discrimination Black workers face within their workplace (predominantly from line managers and co- workers) with 4 in 5 not reporting it because of the potential negative impact it will have on their work life. I asked what interventions could MPs and others make to press the Government on the EPG in consideration of the McGregor-Smith review?

The Chair thanked all the guests and reiterated the next steps for the campaign including:

  • Urging the Government to publish their delayed guidance for employers on ethnicity pay gap reporting.
  • Urging a cross-party group of MPs to publicly declare their support for UNISON’s ask of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting.
  • Urging MPs to table questions and debates, to demonstrate their support for the campaign.
  • UNISON members contacting their local MPs asking them to support the campaign.