Tag Archives: UK

The Race Audit Report: Much A Do About Nothing (by Meenakshi Sarkar)

Meenashi Sarkar

Meenakshi Sarkar, CERIC Postgraduate Researcher

Britain is a country where we despise prejudice, embrace equality and believe in the fundamental right of the individual to make the most of his or her talents in a free society. Yet all too many of us remain trapped by the accident of our births, our destinies far too likely to be determined by our sex or race; … our deeply held religion or belief make us lesser beings in the eyes of others. And far too many of us are still born into families without the material or social capital to give us the right start in life.
(Trevor Philips, Chief of EHRC, Foreword ‘How fair is Britain?’ 2010)

 

“We believe that how far you go in life should be based on your talent and how hard you work – and nothing else. That was the ambition set out by the Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street in July 2016, and it remains this Government’s abiding mission to tackle burning injustices.
(Damian Green – First Secretary of State, Foreword, Race audit Report, 2017)

 

Race issues are not new to Britain. In the last 50 years, post-colonial Britain has struggled to keep the promise of equality to its ethnic minorities, many of whom came in the early 1950s from the so-called ‘commonwealth’ countries. These, Noah has quipped, are ironically named ‘as there was nothing common and the wealth was accumulated in one place’ (Noah, 2015).

So when on assuming her role as the Prime Minister of UK in 2016, Theresa May commissioned an ‘audit’ to tackle the ‘burning issues of injustice against ethnic minorities’ in the country, aspirations and eyebrows both were raised. The much hyped race audit report was released on the 10th of October 2017 and is disappointing in many ways.  Firstly, contrary to what was claimed to be a ‘first of its kind’, this is a  collection of the many government initiated and independent studies and the sixth such major report focussed on equality issues (or rather the lack of it) in Britain in five decades and unfortunately it does not tell us anything that we didn’t know.  Some people have called the new portal on which all of these reports have been uploaded ‘a large drop box and ironically the government took 411 days to create the same’ (The Guardian, 2017). Various reports have been brought together under one portal which is a slight help but the data is dated and not customised to the purpose of the audit.

List of 6 major reports on ethnic minorities in last 50 years

1966 W W Daniel- Racial Discrimination in England
1974 David J Smith- Racial Disadvantage in Britain
1982 Colin Brown- Black and White Britain
1994 Tariq Modood et al -Ethnic Minorities in Britain: Diversity and Disadvantage
2010 EHRC: How fair is Britain?
2017 Cabinet office: Race Audit Report

From the titles of the reports mentioned above alone, it is evident that ethnic minorities in Britain are still at a definite disadvantage in the labour market and that Britain is ‘not fair’ after all. Have these reports made any difference in terms of how British policies and labour markets have responded in the last  five decades and what difference will this new report make as Ms May has ‘vowed to tackle the issues of inequality’? Satisfactorily answering this question calls for a detailed analysis which is beyond the scope of this blog, but some relevant questions need to be raised.

In the 1994 PSI report by Modood et al, it was argued that Britain no longer had a Black and White divide, but rather a three way split which cannot be simply explained by racial discrimination:

With Chinese, African Asian and sometimes Indian people in a similar position to whites, Caribbeans some way behind, and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis a long way behind them. Whatever the explanation for that layering of socio-economic positions, it is not simply racial discrimination. A more complex analysis is required (PSI ,1997:10)

The authors of the report further argue that many of the disadvantages and other experiences associated with minority status continue long after ‘naturalisation’ has been completed; and besides, the nationality laws associated with Britain’s former empire are far too complex for this to be a useful criterion. Thus skin colour is considered another option: after all, the majority group is defined as ‘white’, and some (or even all) minorities are often referred to as ‘black’. Colour would also reflect the fact that minority status is likely to follow from generation to generation, whatever changes occur in the cultural behaviour of the people concerned. On the other hand, colour cannot be used to distinguish between minority groups (for example between Caribbeans and Africans, or between Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis). So, colour as a criterion on its own fails to explain the differences within groups of same color and indicates a differential degree of discrimination. So is religion then leading to a double penalty for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis? There are enough studies to indicate the presence of a ‘Muslim penalty’ which affects labour market prospects of followers of Islam or even people with Muslim sounding names (Lindley, 2002; Khattab et al, 2011).

So what has changed in these twenty plus years?

It has been alleged that the groups which do not do well in the labour market must have human capital issues, such as poor English language ability and low qualifications. Thus, many ethnic minority groups including Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Black Caribbean respond to this by putting their children in Higher Education. As evident from Tables 1 and 2 (below), the proportion of ethnic minorities with low qualifications has gone down considerably and the English language proficiency of all minorities have gone up. However, has that resulted in concomitant progress in the labour market? While the Chinese and Indians have definitely done well (even better than the white British population) and are more likely to be in professional managerial roles, the same cannot be said of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Black Caribbean people (Table 3). This questions the assumption of proponents of ‘human capital theory’ that the British labour market is meritocratic and also of politicians who think equal opportunity will ensure equal outcomes.

Blog_Table1

Blog_Table2

In fact, the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black Caribbean men’s position in terms of being in professional managerial positions has deteriorated even further since 1994 (Table 3)

Table 3. Job levels of men in professional managerial and employers roles
  1994 2017
White English 30 34
Indian 25 45
Chinese 46 47
Pakistani 19 15
Bangladeshi 18 14
Black Caribbean 14 10

The persistence of gap in the labour market performance of these groups shows that there are factors beyond the control of people which affect the type of jobs and kind of roles they would ‘end up in’ and investment in human capital does not guarantee them the ‘good’ jobs.

Much has been said and debated about white privilege, but I would like to argue that like the ethnic penalty, white privilege does not come with the skin colour alone, but class and gender play a vital role too. Thus white working class men are less likely to be in university, or have adequate numeracy or literacy skills than those from white middle class and are worse off than Indian and Chinese middle class men in terms of being in professional managerial jobs. As far as religion is concerned, while there might not be any direct privilege accorded to Christians, there is definitely a penalty for Muslims which might put non-Muslims at a relative advantage. Additionally, while women in general have improved their human capital status across most ethnic minority groups, they are still less likely to be in senior positions and are still largely limited within elementary professions in care and services. Thus class, affiliations (Religious), gender, and ethnicity form what I call a ‘cage’, factors which one is born into and keep people’s potential imprisoned.

People who have lived with discrimination don’t need a government audit to make them aware of the scale of the challenge. This audit means that for society as a whole – for government, for our public services – there is nowhere to hide.”

(Theresa May, Prime Minister, 2017)

Yet another report, more data, much a do about nothing? Theresa May says ‘UK must act against race inequality’. This much is obvious, but when and how is the question that I am afraid no one seems to be having answers to at the moment, including Ms. May.

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Fast food workers strike in the US, but who will unionise the UK’s chippies?

Jane Holgate WEB
By Jane Holgate, CERIC, University of Leeds

Low-waged workers in small workplaces are, statistically, the least likely to go on strike. They are unlikely to be unionised, are under close supervision from the boss and are easily replaceable. Traditionally, unions have paid little attention to these workers. Organising in small workplaces with high staff turnover provides little return for lots of effort.

Yet in the US, thousands of fast food workers from outlets such as McDonald’s, Domino’s and KFC have walked out of their workplaces taking their colleagues with them in a series of day-long strikes that began in 2012. The most recent of these involved coordinated action in 150 cities across the US last month.

But nothing of a similar scale has happened in the UK, and it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon. The reasons for this go to the heart of the differences between unions on either side of the Atlantic.

Poverty wages

It is easy to see why campaigners in the US have targeted fast food. The industry’s workers are the lowest paid in the country, according to government data. Their median salary is just $11,000 per year. They also suffer a high degree of “wage theft”, where employers dock their pay or force them to work unpaid hours.

Workers are demanding the right to join a union and are pushing the Obama government to increase the minimum wage nationwide. Currently, the federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 but individual states and cities have the power to set their own rates above this figure. Since the strikes began minimum wages increases have been secured in seven states and two cities. SeaTac, near Seattle, in Washington State was the first city to win an increase to $15, followed by the city of Seattle itself.

Complex labour laws mean unions face difficulties getting recognised by employers and the unions often experience expensive legal challenges from employers. The unions and unionised workers also face intimidation and bullying from multi-million dollar union-busting companies. To avoid this, unions have adopted a new tactical approach to organising in this sector.

New tactics

Campaigners have targeted the state and federal legislatures to increase the minimum wage. As many fast food restaurants are franchises, the owners have little room for manoeuvre when it comes to wages, as the price of supplies and food is set and regulated centrally by companies like McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Low profit margins mean the owner of an individual McDonald’s franchise has little scope to increase wages.

The unions also chose to organise fast food workers in the community as opposed to in the workplace. They set up Fast Food Forward – a community coalition – where they have funded organisers to work with local groups and workers centres. Faith leaders in local churches and community activists have shown their support for the strikers. In one example, from late last year in New York, “Clergy and city council members walked a Wendy’s worker back in after her manager told her she was fired. The high-powered delegation convinced the manager to ‘unfire’ her”.

Workers are also legally protected from dismissal (largely), as it is unlawful to fire workers for attempting to organise a union.

Could these tactics work in the UK?

One reason this form of organising hasn’t spread to the UK is that local councils don’t have the power to set minimum wages. A minimum wage campaign could be directed at the national government, but unions in the UK have tended to use their political links with the Labour Party to press for demands for worker-friendly legislation and are unlikely to think it worthwhile to demand progressive labour laws from the current coalition government.

Unions in the UK also tend to be too focused on servicing their current members rather than on expanding into new, non-unionised workplaces. While some unions have adopted the language of organising, where this does take place, it tends to be where unions already have membership. For a typical UK union, a trip round the local high street’s fast food places would be a leap into the unknown.

It’s a leap the unions might be willing to take, if it weren’t for another problem: they simply don’t have the resources of their US counterparts. The UK trade union sector has seen merger after merger (a consequence of a failure to invest in organising) as unions need to consolidate in order to cut costs and survive.

In the US, unions are able to draw strength from being part of a wider tradition of community-based organising, including a number of national networks of faith-based and community coalitions. Geographically based community organising – while starting to take place in Unite, the largest private-sector union – is not a feature of UK trade unionism. But even Unite’s community membership is aimed at organising those not in work to campaign for social justice rather than workers in the workplace.

For unions in the UK looking enviously at the success their counterparts have had across the Atlantic, there are lessons to be learned. British trade unions could recast themselves as broader social justice organisations where their role is to create benefits for all workers rather than just their members. Forming genuine common-cause coalitions with progressive community organisations campaigning for social justice, instead of just requesting assistance when unions need support for an industrial dispute or campaign, could prove valuable in reaching into communities where unions do not have a base.

Further, the campaign for a living wage began in London in 2001 when London Citizens – a community coalition explicitly based on US organising tactics – began working with unions to secure wage increases for hospital workers in East London. Since then, this small organisation has managed to persuade dozens of employers to pay a living wage of £8.80 in London (£7.65 outside of London) per hour – £2.49 (£1.34) more than the national minimum. More than 100 local authorities have now committed to paying the living wage.

At the same time they have managed to shift the political discourse around low wages to that of a “living”, rather than a “minimum” wage, such that the Labour Party has committed to its introduction, should it be returned to government.

Unions need to get smarter and more flexible in the way they organise in order to adapt to the constantly changing labour markets and laws that make organising workers difficult. It can be done, but it requires a fundamental shake-up of the way unions currently operate and the adoption of more innovative and tactical approaches to organising.

Jane Holgate does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.