Is Britain fairer for black and minority ethnic workers?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report ‘Is Britain fairer?’ examines the extent to which equality and human rights are improving in Britain. It reveals that the systemic labour market discrimination suffered by black and minority ethnic (BME) workers is still a major feature of their working lives.
The challenges include significantly higher rates of unemployment for people from black and Asian communities, the continuing high levels of unemployment for 16-24 year olds and the fact that poverty rates were higher for children in households headed by somebody from a BME community.
Young people from BME communities also have low levels of access to apprenticeships. This risks causing damaging the long-term employment prospects of BME workers as the government seeks to expand apprenticeships as a route to get young people into work – a concern that recently prompted the TUC to write to the EHRC calling for a formal investigation into the under-representation of young BME workers in apprenticeships.
The report also identifies that changes in work including the growth of part-time employment, zero-hours contracts, short-time working and self-employment is disproportionately affecting people from vulnerable groups. These concerns chime with the TUC’s own report ‘Living on the Margins’, published earlier this year. It exposed how, in the aftermath of the recession, BME workers continue to face high levels of unemployment and are also disproportionately affected by the growth in low-paid, part-time and precarious jobs.
The TUC welcomes David Cameron’s acknowledgement in his Black History Month message that ‘if we are to thrive as a country we have to do everything we can so that any person, regardless of their ethnicity, age or gender, can realise their potential’. But if this statement is going to amount to anything more than empty rhetoric the government needs to take immediate action to address problems of systemic discrimination in the labour market.
The colour-blind approach taken by the current government and their failure to take serious measures to deal with institutional racism in employment is resulting in further entrenchment of racial inequality in the labour market. Unless urgent action is taken, young black workers will be faced with a choice: low-paid casual employment or ending up on the scrap heap. This will ensure that the structural discrimination that faces BME workers in the labour market will continue for another generation.
There is a need for a concerted and co-ordinated action by the government to eliminate racial discrimination in the labour market. This must include positive action measures to tackle structural racism caused by job segregation and segmentation in the labour market. Only through such measures can equality of opportunity be achieved and the historical disadvantage that BME workers have suffered be addressed.