Most BAME employees have suffered recent racial harassment

TUC analysis finds unfair treatment remains widespread, while discussion of workplace racism remains ‘fairly muted’

A majority of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers have experienced racial harassment at work in the last five years or believe they have been treated unfairly by their employer because of their race, according to a new report. 

The Racism Ruins Lives study, based on polls carried out by the TUC, found racism remained a widespread issue in everyday working life in the UK. Yet, it added, discussion relating to the role of racism in employment, promotion and training remained “fairly muted”. 

The survey of more than 5,000 people found two-thirds (65 per cent) of all ethnic minority participants reported having experienced racial harassment at work in the last five years, while 49 per cent said they had been treated unfairly by their employer because of their race. 

Wilf Sullivan, race equality officer for the TUC, said while there was considerable statistical data available about levels of unemployment, lack of promotion and disproportionately low levels of access to training, there remained very little discussion about the day to day experiences of BAME workers.

“The effect of racism at work has become the invisible issue that is not discussed when considering the position of BAME employees,” Sullivan said. “The experiences of participants highlighted in this report challenge the assumption that racism is only a problem when specific incidents of racism take place. It highlights the accumulative effect that institutional racism has on BAME workers’ health, wellbeing and ability to function at work.”

Almost half (46 per cent) of respondents from a black, Asian or mixed heritage background reported they had been subjected to verbal abuse and racist jokes at work. A third said they had been bullied and subjected to “ignorant or insensitive” questions, while 11 per cent experienced racist violence at work.

The survey also suggested workplace racism had wide-ranging consequences which affected the working lives of BAME staff. 

Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of black employees said racism at work impacted their mental health and stress, with more than half (56 per cent) saying workplace racism negatively impacted their work. 

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of employees who reported experiencing workplace racism stated they had to take a period of sick leave. And a significant proportion of both women and men said racial discrimination had caused them to leave a job. 

Dr Stephen Ashe, co-author of the report and leader of the University of Manchester’s Racism at Work project, called on employers to “abandon the laissez-faire approach adopted by the current government and its predecessors”. 

Among a number of recommendations, Ashe called for a wide-ranging review into whether employers were fulfilling their duties around equality, as well as legislation to ensure businesses were responsible for protecting workers against racism by third parties, and to introduce anonymised application forms across all sectors.

He suggested employers ensure senior leaders sign a policy agreement that guaranteed equality, and undertook that diversity practitioners would have the time, space and resources required to fulfil their role, particularly the ability to investigate and respond to reports of racism.

According to another TUC analysis, BAME workers are far more likely to be trapped in temporary and insecure work. The analysis, published on Friday, showed BAME workers were twice as likely to be on agency contracts than their white counterparts. 

More BAME individuals were on zero-hours contracts – one in 24, compared to one in 42 white workers. And one in 13 BAME workers (totalling 264,000 people) were in temporary work, compared to 1 in 19 white workers. 

The Racism Ruins Lives report found employees on non-permanent contracts were more likely to report both racial harassment and unfair treatment by their employer, and staff working less than 16 hours a week were more likely to report experiencing racial harassment at work than those who worked full-time.