Black and minority ethnic workers in the UK have been far harder hit by the pandemic than their white peers, according to an analysis of official data by the Trades Union Congress that shows big disparities in job losses in the worst-affected sectors.
The TUC said its report should serve as a “wake-up call” for the government to tackle structural racism in the workplace.
“This pandemic has held up a mirror to discrimination in our labour market,” said Frances O’Grady, secretary-general at the TUC. “Ministers must challenge the systemic racism and inequality that holds back BME people at work.”
The latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility and Bank of England predict that UK unemployment will peak at about 7.5 per cent later this year — although the government’s extension of its furlough scheme, announced after the forecasts were made, could help to limit job losses.
The TUC analysis, based on labour market data for the third quarter of 2020, notes that the unemployment rate for black and ethnic minority workers was at 7 per cent even before the pandemic hit, and has risen well beyond it to 8.5 per cent — meaning that roughly one in 12 is now out of work.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for white workers stood at 4.5 per cent in the third quarter — meaning that one in 22 are out of work — up from 3.6 per cent a year earlier.
HM Revenue & Customs data on the number of employees on companies’ payrolls show even bigger disparities in the sectors where job losses have been concentrated.
In hospitality, the number of Bame employees was 23 per cent lower year on year in the third quarter of 2020, compared with a decline of 13 per cent for white employees. In manufacturing, white employment was down 7 per cent, while the number of Bame employees had fallen 15 per cent.
In retail — where employers initially made heavy use of the government’s furlough scheme — the number of white employees had dropped just 1 per cent year on year by the first quarter, but Bame employee numbers were down 16 per cent.
The TUC said these figures reflected the fact that Bame people were more likely to be in insecure work with fewer employment rights — a reality which had also put them at greater risk of contracting the virus. Bame workers had also been disproportionately affected by a sharp drop in the number of part-time workers.
The TUC wants ministers to make it mandatory for companies to report pay gaps between workers of different ethnicities — as they already do with gender pay reporting — and to publish action plans to ensure fair treatment in the workplace.
It also reiterated calls for a ban on zero-hour contracts, arguing that greater rights for insecure workers would help to narrow racial disparities.
“During previous economic downturns, BME workers have been ‘first out and last in’. The government needs to address the causes and effects of structural racism,” said Patrick Roach, head of a new TUC task force.
The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the government had already taken measures to protect, support and create jobs, adding: “Equality impacts remain a key part of the policy development process and we keep them under review.”
It said the government had also banned the use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hour contracts to give these workers more “flexibility”.