Black Members Matter – Now and Always

A Message from Abdul Rashid – Chair of UNISON Yorkshire & Humberside Black Members Self-Organised Group

Black Members Matter – Now and Always

The last couple of weeks have been a critical time in highlighting the struggle against racism, first with the murder of George Floyd in the US and subsequent worldwide protests, then with the report detailing the increased impact of COVID-19 on Black communities – without any recommendations or action plan.

UNISON has always been a leader in the fight against racism and inequality in all its forms, wherever it may be, and we continue that fight every day.

Systemic racism is present in our institutions, both public and private. It has never meaningfully gone away, but it has taken different forms.

In the past, Black people experienced overt racism by being called names, seeing signs saying ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’. You do not see such blatant signs any more, but systemic racism now takes place in our private institutions.

For example, in the banks when you go to pay a bill, some banks ask you to prove your identity. As the Windrush scandal showed, it is not sufficient for Black people just to be British – you’re asked to show different forms of identity just to withdraw your monthly salary.

It is the additional checks and hurdles faced in accessing everyday services, which for most white people will never be a problem.

So while we have moved away from the naked and overt racism that Black people faced before, racism is now practiced in more covert ways – with sophistry and subtlety, but it has the same negative outcomes.

We need to take action to ensure that this does not happen, but the UK tends to follow the same trajectory as the US.

However, we have a different culture in the UK of fairness and tolerance, and we have to ensure that those values win through. Our democracy in the UK is different in that we have a system of open justice and good judicial oversight – so having access to justice is important.

Accountability and transparency are also key cornerstones of our democratic tradition and we need to keep it this way.

Where the danger is looming is that we need to stop the dog whistle politics and policies that feed the toxic environment that could propel UK racists towards the frequent violence seen in the US.

UNISON has an important and pivotal role. The union has always been in the vanguard – leading and shaping the agenda.

Leadership is critical in saying where the union stands on issues, and UNISON members have always been at the forefront of challenging the major social issues of our time.

So the union has to continue to be pro-active and visible in standing with all our members and communities.

As a public service union, we are in constant dialogue and engagement with our members who live in those communities and rely on those services.

UNISON has to use the size of its membership and the power of its access to influence change and continue to hold employers and the government to account.

We need to use the tools and power of collective bargaining to challenge discrimination, inequality and force employers to comply with their legal obligations.

How do we work to improve the lives of Black people in the UK?

We need to turn the dial on racism in our public and private institutions.

We need to challenge the low rate of employment for Black people from specific sectors of the labour market, education, manufacturing and construction. Unemployment remains high at almost three times the national rate.

On pay, research from the TUC found that the ethnicity pay gap is up to 25% and research by the Resolution Foundation reported that there was a £3.2bn pay penalty facing Black workers, with Black graduate men facing the biggest pay penalty of 17%.

In some sectors, young Black men in particular are excluded from apprenticeship opportunities. At every stage of the labour market, from recruitment, redeployment to redundancies, Black workers are ‘last in, first out’.

Black people are already over-represented in precarious, part-time, temporary and zero hours contracts.

We need to improve employment opportunities, challenge employment discrimination, implement positive action measures to redress employment and economic exclusion.

This continuum promotes economic inequality across generations of Black British people – and it seems that COVID-19 thrives on inequalities.

A recent Office for National Statistics report, comparing the COVID-19 deaths rates in England and Wales, finds that the mortality rate in the most deprived areas is twice as high as in the least deprived areas.

We need to break the cycle of discrimination, disadvantage and deprivation.

What are UNISON’s Black members most concerned about and want to see changed?

Black members are most concerned that urgency and vigour are injected into the problems they face. They don’t want dither and delay while Black lives are lost.

So they are concerned about the lack of government action and the failure to improve and protect lives and livelihoods.

They expect to see the government taking the issue of the Public Health England (PHE) report seriously, giving it the attention and urgency it deserves instead of side-lining the findings on structural inequalities.

They are risking their lives to save others and they expect the government to act to save theirs.

Instead, what they have seen is more tokenistic lip service. They hoped to see government-wide ownership of this issue at a senior level.

They want to see the government bring into force sections of the Equality Act 2010 to address inequalities that result from differences in occupation, education, place of residence or social class; to implement the Conservative 2017 manifesto commitment to take action on the ethnicity and disability pay gaps and meet their commitments on gender pay reporting and equal pay.

They want a comprehensive race equality strategy and a full public inquiry into disproportionate deaths from COVID-19.

What should UNISON’s white members should do to support their colleagues?

White members are in a different place from Black members as they view racism through different optics.

White and Black members should have conversations not confrontations on their different perspectives.

We tend to be creatures of our environment. But we can change that by leaving our baggage behind in terms of our conditioning and stereotypes, and begin to have meaningful conversations.

White members do not always see the truth of Black people’s lived experience of everyday racism. It is important to listen and to learn.

Think about why it is that a Black person has a more difficult job to be heard than you do.

We can all make a difference if we stand together as trade unionists and don’t let employers divide and rule; challenge the micro-aggressions your colleagues and fellow trade unionists experience in the workplace.

Our message is to step up, stand up and speak out in support of your colleagues – Act in unison to help lift the barriers and burden of fighting everyday racism.

UNISON CELEBRATES BLACK HISTORY MONTH

UNISON Black Members delegation holding UNISON banner

This month, UNISON celebrates Black History Month – a time to celebrate how Black people and communities have shaped our history.

For UNISON, Black History Month is a time to acknowledge and celebrate achievements of Black people throughout history.

Black History and Black British History in particular, is often marginalised.

So Black History Month is a key time to acknowledge achievements and provide an opportunity to discuss wider issues affecting the Black community.

Black History Month is particularly poignant this year, as we reflect on the disproportionate number of Black lives lost during the pandemic.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary writes: “There is a new visibility to Black lives, but for the worst of reasons. So many Black lives have been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the reasons for this are complex, the main one is the ‘everyday’ racism deeply embedded across society.”

“Black workers have faced the highest levels of risk because they are over-represented in frontline, low-paid jobs. Jobs that have been traditionally undervalued or even invisible.”

If you want to find out more about getting involved as a Black member, take a look at UNISON’s Black members site, or contact our branch Equality Officer Ana Yousaf.

SURVEY UPDATE – DISABILITY-RELATED SICKNESS ABSCENCE

UNISON Sheffield Hallam logo

Back in May we sent out a survey asking our disabled members about their experiences of the Sickness Absence Procedure at SHU. We were pleased to receive a very strong response.

The survey showed that over half of the respondents were told at some point by their line manager that their sickness absence levels were too high. It also showed that over 70% of respondents had been put on an informal sickness absence monitoring plan by their manager for disability related absence. Over 40% of respondents felt that their managers hadn’t taken into account their impairment before putting informal sickness absence monitoring in place. 

The Formal ‘Sickness Absence Procedure’

Over half of the respondents who had been entered into informal sickness absences procedure were progressed onto the formal Sickness Absence Procedure. Over half of these members felt that their disabilities were not taken into account by the decision to escalate to formal proceedings, and half also received a formal warning or ‘improvement notice’.

Most of these members requested reasonable adjustments via the process, with mixed success. Only half agreed that reasonable adjustments were put in place effectively for them, and only 35% agreed that the Sickness Absence Procedure was supportive and helped them to improve their sickness absence.

A majority also felt that the absence targets given to them were not achievable. This supports our view that where appropriate, adjusted sickness absence targets should be used to support disabled staff members.

Overall, while some members felt that SHU had treated them fairly, others described their experience of the SHU sickness absence policies as inflexible, and overly concerned with presenteeism. Some members also felt that the policies did not account clearly enough for the different needs of disabled and non-disabled staff members.

Disability Passports

We also took the opportunity to ask all members who responded to the survey about their experience of the ‘Disability Passport’. Only 15% of respondents had been approached by their manager to create a passport and to record the reasonable adjustments they require. 

We would like to see managers utilising the disability passport more for employees. You can find more information about the disability passport here.

Thank you to everybody who took the time to fill in the survey, and we will continue to work towards better support for disabled members.

Ana Yousaf & Rich Nind

 

DEFEND EU MIGRANTS

Stand Up To Racism has launched a statement for a major campaign to defend EU migrants rights in the wake of a racist attack by Boris Johnson’s cabinet, signed by Diane Abbott, Alf Dubs, several trade union leaders, MPs, MEPs, local politicians, faith group leaders and anti racist activists and published in the Guardian.

Locally we want to gather as many signatures and to put this statement in the local press. We are asking our supporters to help by:     

Signing the statement online HERE.

Download the statement as a petition HERE to use in workplaces, colleges and communities.

RACE DISCRIMINATION SURVEY

 UNISON voices needed for EHRC survey

Racial harassment in higher education: our inquiry

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is running two surveys – one for higher education staff and one for higher education students. They want to hear from staff and students who have experienced, witnessed or helped in an incident of racial harassment from September 2015 onwards.

Staff

We welcome individuals meeting the following criteria to participate in the staff survey:

  • you were employed as a member of staff, either academic or non-academic, by a publicly funded higher education institution at any time between September 2015 and now
  • you worked at publicly funded higher education institution in England, Scotland or Wales
  • you experienced or witnessed racial harassment in this setting, or helped someone who was

Complete the racial harassment survey for staff (link to Smart Survey) 

The deadline for completing the survey is Friday 15 February 2019.

 

Forthcoming UNISON events and meetings

If you are interested in attending any of the following events, click the event for further details.

UNISON National Deaf (BSL) Members network meeting, 27 June, UNISON Centre

UNISON National Disabled LGBT Members network meeting, 27 June, UNISON Centre

UNISON National Disabled Black Members network meeting, 28 June 2018, UNISON Centre

UNISON National Disabled Women Members network meeting, 28 June, UNISON Centre

National UNISON transgender & non-binary members meeting, 19 July, UNISON Centre

National UNISON bisexual members meeting, 19 July, UNISON Centre

UNISON National Disabled LGBT Members network meeting, 8 August,  UNISON Centre

UNISON National Deaf (BSL) Members network meeting, 8 August, UNISON Centre

UNISON National Disabled Women Members network meeting, 9 August, UNISON Centre

UNISON National Disabled Black Members network meeting, 9 August, UNISON Centre 

UNISON National Disabled LGBT members meeting, 13 September 2018, UNISON Centre

National UNISON Black LGBT members meeting, 14 September, UNISON Centre

NATIONAL DEMONSTRATION

stand up to racismSaturday 18 March 2017  Stand Up To Racism National Demonstration  London
Stand Up To Racism has called a national demonstration to coincide with the UN Anti-Racism Day. Find details of transport from Sheffield.

Over 50 MPs, peers, trade unionists and Jewish and Muslim leaders have joined together in backing a ‘Stand Up to Trump Stand Up to Racism’ demonstration. 

The demonstration is backed by Doreen Lawrence, Rabbi Lee Wax and members of The Muslim Council of Britain and is supported by shadow cabinet members Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry as well as leading backbenchers Clive Lewis, Chuka Umunna, Lisa Nandy, Bill Morris, Neil Kinnock and Peter Hain and trade union leaders including the National Union of Teachers’ Kevin Courtney and Unite’s Len McCluskey.

 

MODERN SLAVERY ACT 2015

The Modern Slavery Act 2015, which received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015, is intended to provide law enforcement agencies with stronger legal tools to stamp out modern slavery, ensuring that the perpetrators receive suitably severe punishment, while enhancing the protection of, and support for victims.

The new Act consolidates and updates the existing criminal legislation on human trafficking, slavery, forced labour and domestic servitude and increases the maximum custodial sentence, for the most serious offences, from fourteen years to life. In addition, the legislation creates the post of Anti-Slavery Commissioner and places a duty on specified public authorities including local authorities to report potential victims of trafficking to the National Crime Agency.

This briefing will be of interest to elected members and officers working in social services and in particular children’s services. A copy of this briefing can be downloaded as a pdf.

GETTING MORE BLACK TRADE UNION ACTIVISTS IN SENIOR ROLES

The TUC has launched a new mentoring scheme to provide a way for experienced Black Trade Union Activists to support new and less experienced activists to develop and enhance their knowledge of the trade union movement. The Black Activists Mentoring Scheme will be operated through an online portal on the TUC Education web site.

The Black Activists mentoring scheme is an initiative that the Race Relations Committee believes will play an important role in giving confidence and encouraging black activists become more proactive in equipping themselves to play a bigger role in the trade union movement. If you know activists who might benefit from the scheme please encourage them to apply.

2016 UNISON NATIONAL BLACK MEMBERS’ CONFERENCE

The 2016 UNISON National Black Members’ Conference bulletin is now available on the UNISON Conference website. The conference is now open for registration on the Online Conference System (OCS).

The conference will be held at the Venue Cymru, Lladudno, Wales from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 January. If you are interested in attending, now is the time to speak to your branch about registering you as a delegate to the conference.

Nelson Mandela Award

UNISON 2015 Black members’ conference resolved to establish a Nelson Mandela award that embodies his attributes and becomes an annual feature of the conference.

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