On the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it is prescient that our trade unions in the UK will be coming together at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Black Workers’ Conference to advance a progressive agenda for anti-racism on the anniversary of the first national Coronavirus lockdown. In the last year we have seen the country plunged into a health emergency, an economic emergency and a racial justice emergency. A health pandemic and the Government’s response to it has reopened the deep wounds of structural racism that continue to blight and scar our country and our economy.
Black communities and workers hard hit by the pandemic Structural racism continues to hold back communities and blight life chances. We have seen that most starkly in data showing the highest rates of Covid-19 deaths amongst Black communities. Black communities have been systematically failed by a Government response that was supposed to protect us all during the pandemic. Analysis by the TUC has revealed that employment for black workers has fallen by 5.3% over the last year, compared to 0.2% for white workers. Employment of Black workers has fallen at 26 times the rate of white workers during the pandemic. Around 1 in 12 black workers are now unemployed, compared to 1 in 22 white workers. Black workers in London experience a 24% ethnicity pay gap. Black workers are disproportionately more likely to work in precarious jobs, often on zero hours contracts or in agency work.
Black women are around twice as likely as white workers to be employed in insecure jobs. They have also been less likely to be protected financially during the pandemic. It is devastating to note that Black women are still 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought this disparity even more starkly to light. Young people from Black backgrounds are more likely to be unemployed than white workers at every qualification level. As we witnessed in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher’s government, young Black people once again face a very real prospect of being left behind unless determined and concerted action is taken to ensure that the country’s pandemic response delivers racial justice. In the education system we have seen how systemic racism continues to damage the lives of Black children. Black boys are three times more likely to be excluded from schools, three times more likely to end up unemployed, and more likely to end up in prison. And, Black women face the realities of multiple discrimination - two times more likely to end up employed in insecure jobs and singled out for harder and less safe duties at work compared to their white counterparts. Disgracefully, since the start of the pandemic, Black workers have been faced with “fire and rehire” employer practices at nearly twice the rate of white workers, with 1 in 7 Black workers told by their employer that they risk losing their jobs if they do not accept inferior terms and conditions, compared to 1 in 13 white workers. Across the board, Black workers have borne the brunt of job losses through the pandemic. In every industry where jobs have gone, Black workers have paid the higher price. And when Black workers have held on to their jobs, they are not only more likely to be working in low-paid, insecure jobs, but three times more likely to die from Covid-19. Our communities continue to endure racist attacks on our streets and the discriminatory use of police stop and search. During the pandemic, Black and Asian people are 54% more likely to be fined under coronavirus rules than white people.