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Racism rampant in UK workplaces say researchers

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jun 12, 2019 - 10:03:44 AM

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The United Kingdom has serious problems of racism and xenophobia inside the workplace, says a recent report. The Trade Union Congress, a federation of British trade unions, commissioned the “Racism at Work” survey conducted between December 2016 and February 2017 asking people a series of closed questions relating to various aspects of their everyday working experiences.

The report surveyed 5,191 White, Black and ethnic minority workers and was released amid an increasing White nationalism permeating Europe, said observers. However, it is not a new problem, but an old lingering one, they add.

“There is no doubt that racism and xenophobia remain widespread based on recent surges in racist hate crimes and abuse,” the report authors said. It was released in April.

However, unlike considerable amounts of available data addressing unemployment, lack of promotion and disproportionately low levels of access to training, the Trade Union Congress says there is very little discussion of day-to-day workplace experiences of Black and ethnic minorities.

The authors said their findings shine a light on the “personal, structural and institutional nature” of contemporary workplace racism. The report highlights ways lives are affected inside and outside of work.

Personal statements by participants drew attention to how workplace racism is rooted in imperialism, colonialism, slavery and scientific racism.

Those considered non-White continue to be thought of as “intellectually inferior” to White people, “child-like,” “degenerate” and “subhuman,” said the report. Others racialized as non-White were thought of as belonging to places characterized as “dirty,” “wild,” “uncivilized” and “backwards.”

“The effects of racism at work has become the invisible issue that is not discussed when considering the position of BME (Black, minority and ethnic) employees at work,” said the report authors.

The report authors said “alongside racism, White resentment is a significant problem.”

Participants who self-identified as White European suggested activities and training promoting equality and diversity were no longer necessary and provide ethnic minority employees with an unfair advantage and preferential treatment. They felt globalization, deindustrialization, neoliberalism and austerity have a disproportionate, detrimental impact on the “White working class.”

“These types of reaction appear to be part of a broader, overall negative, if not hostile, response to equality and diversity,” wrote report authors Stephen Ashe and James Nazroo of the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity at the University of Manchester in England.

A number of factors are feeding the racial climate in British workplaces, including the impact on race tied to the Brexit debate and White anxiety about diminished birthrates and a declining economy, says human rights activist and former London Deputy Mayor Lee Jasper.


“Generally, the Brexit and the European Referendum vote has shown that Britain has become infected with the kind of continental organized White Supremacist fascism that we’ve seen emerge on the (European) continent,” Mr. Jasper told The Final Call in a telephone interview from London.

He was referring to UK withdrawal from the European Union. A June, 2016 referendum resulted in a 51.9 percent vote to leave the EU and jumpstarted a two-year process of separation due to expire October 31, 2019.

For a long time many thought the English Channel provided a buffer against extreme right wing fascism that’s been growing over the last 20 years, Mr. Jasper explained. However, in the wake of a worldwide financial collapse of 2008 that hope changed, he noted.

“What post 2008 has shown to be true is that no country is immune … in the context of a profound economic crises,” said Mr. Jasper. “A general calculation is that when European economies go down, racism inevitably goes up.”

The 117-page report showed an overwhelming number of respondents experienced work-place related racism.

Over 70 percent of Asian and Black workers surveyed said they experienced racial harassment at work in the last five years. Sixty percent of Asian and Black workers and almost 40 percent of participants of mixed racial heritage reported unfair treatment by their employer because of their race.

The report said the most prevalent form of racial harassment encountered at work was racist remarks. It said 46 percent of respondents from Black, Asian and Mixed heritage background and 32 percent of non-White participants reported being subjected to verbal abuse and racist jokes. In addition, one-third of employees of Black, Asian and Mixed heritage reported bullying and being subjected to ignorant or insensitive questioning. Eleven percent of these same workers experienced racial violence at work.

Minority worker advocates say anti-racial discrimination policies on the EU level are more protective of the rights of racial minorities than UK policies have been historically. The resurgence of the far right in some EU countries during the late 1990s accelerated treaty amendments that prioritized fighting race discrimination. The EU adopted a Race Directive in 2000 that required comprehensive protection from race discrimination in all EU countries.

“If the UK voted to leave the EU there would be a great deal of uncertainty about the rights it guarantees, including equality rights,” said an April 2016 Trade Union Congress report. Successive UK governments have been keen to reduce “burdens on business” in compensation for discrimination cases, which advocates fear would be targeted if the UK leaves the EU.

The UK has not had a strong policy on racial equality since the Race Relations Act of 1968 that made it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of color, race, ethnic or national origins. The Trade Union Congress is calling for a clear government strategy and action plan for racial equality.

Such policy should not be “based on the assumption that individual Black and minority workers need to do more to jump over the barriers of discrimination that are erected against them in the workplace,” said Wilf Sullivan, the Trade Union Congress Race Equality Officer. But “a strategy that results in real structural and cultural change,” he said.

The analysis presented in the report suggests the entrenched nature of workplace racism and racial inequality must be addressed through structural, institutional and legislative reform.

Currently British legislation against workplace racism is so “antiquated … old… ineffective and inefficient” that the “vast majority of our people working in White institutions have no confidence or expectations of justice from their internal complaints, grievances or disciplinary processes,” said Mr. Jasper.

He urges Black Brits to rethink staying in Britain and organize international escape routes to other countries if Britain drops out of the EU without a deal.

“The recession will be savage … you don’t want to be around when the middle class and the upper working class face economic crisis because you have never seen White people like broke White people when they are around Black people. It’s a recipe for disaster,” said Mr. Jasper.

“Make sure you secure your relations back home or with your country of origin … should you need to move, because Britain is becoming a heavily toxic environment for Black people,” Mr. Jasper warned.

The report authors say if the UK government doesn’t intervene and regulate the issue of workplace racism, it guarantees that racism will remain an integral part of work life for a long time.

Piecemeal reforms since the introduction of the Race Relations Amendment Act in 1968 cannot continue if workplace racism and inequality in the British labor market will be eradicated in our lifetime, said researchers. Significant, if not radical, structural and institutional upheaval is required. So too is a sustained program of anti-racist educational work, the report said.

“If we do not undertake this task, what happens when 2068 comes around? Will we still be confronting the same issues that should have been resolved in 1968?” asked the report authors.