Celebrating Black history

October is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the historical contributions of Black people and communities. This October, it’s worth giving pause to reflect on the spotlight that has been shone upon Black lives this year for so many reasons.

While some have just woken up to the racism that is endemic across the world (and some still refuse to acknowledge it), trade unions have long been pushing for equality by challenging discrimination at work, fighting the far right, and more recently, fighting to protect Black lives from COVID-19. 

This particular battle is far from over. Yesterday a new report by the University of Manchester showed that Black people in London are almost twice as likely to die from Coronavirus than white people and despite the asks from workers for better safety provisions ahead of a second wave, far too many employers are still ignorant to the need to do more.

Everyone, but especially trade unionists (most people still spend the majority of their lives at work), should be looking for ways to do more to combat racism and discrimination. This October, here are some ways you can:

Negotiate better safety measures for Black members.

Individual risk assessments are best, treating Black people as a homogenous group by implementing blanket measures such as removing all Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) workers from frontline jobs could lead to indirect discrimination. Make sure working from home is included as an option during the risk assessment process for those who want it. 

These risk assessments should include equality impact assessments, or if this isn’t possible, at the very least, explicitly reference BAME groups. Risk assessments mustn’t be a tick box exercise, they should lead to better PPE, adjustments to roles, financial support for those who are sick or asked to self-isolate and strict enforcement of health and safety procedures.

Lobby your employer to use equality impact assessments.

If your employer is looking at redundancies ask them to complete an equality impact assessment to ensure they aren’t disproportionately impacting Black workers, and all workers from underrepresented groups. Equality impact assessments are only mandatory for public sector bodies, but you can ask your employer to do one to ensure their decisions are fair. 

Treat Black issues as a priority in day to day union work, not as an add on.

That means consulting with Black workers, signing up equalities reps and including Black issues in collective bargaining. We’ll only improve representation of BAME workers within our Community structures if it happens in branches too.

We’ve asked all Community-recognised employers to consult with workers identified as most at risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 and take action to make workplaces safer. If you don’t think this is happening, email equalities@community-tu.org and we’ll help push this up the agenda at your workplace.

You can see Community’s risk assessment guidance here.

You can find our equalities impact assessment guidance here.

We have written guidance on tackling racism and discrimination at work which you can access here.

You can negotiate best on behalf of you and your colleagues if you are an equalities rep. Find out more and sign up here.

Lauren Crowley is head of equalities at Community. You can contact her at equalities@community-tu.org

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