UK employment one year after the death of George Floyd
Published 01 June 2021
The brutal murder of George Floyd highlighted racism in all aspects of society including work – but one year on has anything really changed?
The shocking mobile phone footage of Mr Floyd pinned face down on a Minneapolis road, arms handcuffed behind his back with a policeman’s knee pressed against his neck shocked the world.
His repeated pleas of ‘I can’t breathe’ and desperate last breath all caught on film, laid bare the dreadful reality of police brutality and racism in the US.
In April a US jury found a former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of Mr Floyd (1)
Mr Floyd’s death triggered large scale protests in the UK. It led many to take a stand against racial injustice on a scale never seen before. The protests were led by Black Lives Matter (BLM)
UK employers were quick to speak out and vow to fight racism, pay inequality and diversity at work.
But research for Channel 5 News, just six months after Mr Floyd’s death, revealed that, 85 per cent of respondents said they have experienced one or more forms of racism in the workplace, and 49 per cent of respondents think attitudes about race have not progressed since the BLM protests (2)
The prime minister also set up the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities to look at racial and ethnic disparities in the UK (3)
The commission’s report published earlier this year highlighted race and ethnic disparities in health, education, employment, crime and policing. It was widely criticised.
Independent experts from the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council rejected and condemned the analysis and findings of the report.
In a statement the experts said “There is [a] higher rate of unemployment among persons of African and Asian descent; (b) occupational segregation, with the concentration of persons belonging to ethnic minorities in insecure and low-paid work; and (c) discriminatory recruitment practices of employers” (4)
Research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found evidence of institutional racism in the UK labour market.
It showed one in six black and minority ethnic (BME) workers are employed on insecure terms and conditions, compared to one in 10 (10%) white workers (5)
Also, male BME workers are 57 per cent more likely to be employed in jobs with a higher male mortality rate than white male workers. And female BME workers 48 per cent more likely than female white workers to be employed in an occupation with a higher female mortality rate (6)
Tribunal statistics may serve as a useful insight into the progress, or lack of it in combatting racism, in the workplace.
In the second quarter of last year (April- June 2020) there was an increase in single race discrimination at work cases by 39 per cent compared to the previous quarter (January- March) (7)
The focus on racism and protests following the death of Mr Floyd is likely to have empowered many BME workers to speak out about unfavourable treatment at work.
Institutional and structural racism exists in the UK, in both employment and wider society.
This is perhaps most evident in one of the most high-profile stances against racism, which saw Premier league footballers take the knee before the start of every game in 2020/2021 season.
However, there were a number of high-profile players subjected to vile racist abuse after matches including Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker, both England internationals (8)
Boardrooms remain overwhelmingly white and black workers dominate low-wage, entry-level jobs.
It would be naïve to think that everything could change in 12 months. Looking for signs of progress in that period is far more realistic. Opinion is divided on what progress has been made, if any at all. Real change will take many, many more years.
The fight for fair treatment, decent wages and an end to exploitation of BME workers has not been won in 12 months. It will inevitably take a great deal of perseverance if the dream of true equality for all is ever to be realised.
(1) Former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of Mr Floyd [Internet] www.bbc.co.uk [Cited 1.6.21] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-56818766
(2) Channel 5 News think attitudes about race have not progressed since the BLM protests [Internet] www.rota.org.uk [Cited 1.6.21] https://www.rota.org.uk/content/rota-joins-forces-channel-5-news-investigate-racism-britain
(3) The prime minister also set up the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities [Internet] www.gov.uk [Cited 1.6.21] https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/commission-on-race-and-ethnic-disparities
(4) Experts say; There is [a] higher rate of unemployment among persons of African and Asian descent [Internet] www.ohchr.org [Cited 1.6.21] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27004&LangID=E
(5) One in six black and minority ethnic (BME) workers are employed on insecure terms and conditions [Internet] www.tuc.org.uk [Cited 1.6.21] https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/bme-workers-have-been-asked-shoulder-more-risk-during-pandemic-says-tuc
(6) BME workers [Internet] www.tuc.org.uk [Cited 1.6.21] https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/bme-workers-have-been-asked-shoulder-more-risk-during-pandemic-says-tuc
(7) Increase in single race discrimination at work [Internet] www.gov.uk [Cited 1.6.21] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/tribunal-statistics-quarterly-april-to-june-2020
(8) High-profile players subjected to vile racist abuse after matches [Internet] www.skysports.com [Cited 1.6.21] https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11679/12320421/raheem-sterling-and-kyle-walker-racially-abused-online-after-man-citys-champions-league-final-defeat-by-chelsea
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