Pandemic 'holding up mirror to discrimination'

BAEM workers 26 times harder hit by Covid-19 employment crisis

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This week, on the first anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, UNITElive is featuring some of the top stories we have covered on the pandemic and our members’ contributions, concerns and achievements.

Earlier this year, we highlighted how Black and Asian ethnic minority workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic crisis.

As we highlighted in January, BAEM workers have been 26 times harder hit by the employment crisis precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic than their white counterparts, which new research has shown.

An analysis out from the TUC published in January found that a shocking one in 12 BAEM workers in the UK are now unemployed, compared to one in 22 white workers.

The employment rate among Black and Asian ethnic minority workers has plummeted by 5.3 per cent in the last year – 26 times the drop in the white employment rate.

Before the pandemic began, the BAEM unemployment rate was already significantly higher than white workers  – 7 per cent compared to 3.6 per cent. But the Covid-19 crisis has only further widened such inequalities. Now, 8.5 per cent of BAEM workers are out of work, compared to 4.5 per cent of white workers.

BAEM workers are much more likely to work in sectors that are at greater risk of large numbers of job losses amid the current crisis such as in hospitality and food services. This may explain part of the employment disparity, but even within these sectors, BAEM workers have experienced much higher rates of job losses than their white British peers.

The number in of Black and Asian ethnic minority workers in the accommodation and food sector, for example, has plummeted by 23 per cent, compared to 13 per cent of white workers in the same sector.

Meanwhile, the number of BAEM workers in manufacturing has dropped by 15 per cent, compared to 7 per cent of white workers in the same sector.

BAEM workers have also been disproportionately impacted by part-time job losses.  

While BAEM workers bear the brunt of the employment crisis, they are also being hit disproportionately hard by the virus itself. As UniteLive has highlighted before, BAEM groups are much more likely to die from Covid-19.

While BAEM workers are over-represented in key worker roles that result in higher exposure to the virus, their disproportionate death rates cannot be explained by occupation or socioeconomic status alone.

A recent analysis published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) last week highlighted the fact that while BAEM staff represent 21 per cent of the NHS workforce, BAEM workers accounted for 63 per cent of deaths among health workers.

Authors of the research said that while a number of factors contribute to higher Covid-19 death rates among BAEM people, institutional and cultural racism, alongside outright discrimination, must be considered as key drivers.

The researchers pointed to a Public Health England (PHE) study which found that racism and discrimination have contributed to higher rates of Covid-19 exposure and deaths among BAEM people.

“Ethnic minorities have poorer access to healthcare and poor experiences of care and treatment related to racial discrimination and marginalization,” the researchers noted. “Additionally, ethnic minority staff in the NHS are less likely to speak up and raise their concerns about testing and personal protective equipment.”

Commenting on the TUC’s latest analysis on BAEM employment figures, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “BAEM workers have borne the brunt of the economic impact of this pandemic. In every industry where jobs have gone, BAEM people have been more likely to be made unemployed.

“In some sectors like hospitality, retail and the arts, BAEM employment has literally plummeted,” she added. “And when BAEM workers have held on to their jobs, we know that they are more likely to be working in low-paid, insecure jobs that put them at greater risk from the virus.

“This pandemic has held up a mirror to discrimination in our labour market,” O’Grady went on to say. “The time for excuses and delays is over. Ministers must challenge the systemic racism and inequality that holds back BAEM people at work.”

Unite has backed the TUC’s latest calls for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, for the government to publish all equality impact assessments part of its Covid-19 response, as well as an outright ban of zero hours contracts, which disproportionately affect BAEM workers.

Commenting, Unite national officer for equalities Harish Patel said, “This latest analysis from the TUC adds to the growing mountain of evidence that Black and Asian ethnic minority (BAEM) workers are bearing the brunt of this crisis. Not only are they much more likely to lose their jobs, they are also at much greater risk of catching and dying from Covid-19 than their white peers.

 “The massive hit that our BAEM communities have taken during this crisis exists within a wider context of institutional racism, discrimination and socioeconomic inequality that pervades every layer of our society. It may come as no surprise that our BAEM communities have disproportionately suffered during this crisis, simply because they were suffering under the yoke of our unequal system already, long before the pandemic reached our shores.

 “But it doesn’t have to be this way. The pandemic can serve as a catalyst for permanent change if there is the political will. While we continue our work towards ending racism and discrimination and its many root causes once and for all, we can turn the tide now through active, interventionist policies such as mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, mandatory equality impact assessments, and other measures to protect our BAEM communities from the worst effects of this crisis.”

By Hajera Blagg

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