Calls for mandatory ethnicity pay reporting renewed as petition hits 100,000 signatures

Racism in employment one of the most prominent forms of racial inequality, say experts, as Black Lives Matter protests ramp up pressure to tackle the pay gap 

A petition calling for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting for UK firms with 250 or more staff has reached more than 100,000 signatures, meaning it will be considered for debate in parliament.

The petition, created on the government’s portal, urged the importance of introducing an ethnicity-based pay gap reporting framework similar to that already in place for the gender pay gap. It followed another weekend of Black Lives Matters protests in cities across the UK.

Rabya Aftab Lomas, the petition’s creator, wrote that the legislation was necessary to “shine a light on race [and] ethnicity-based inequality in the workplace”, adding that “introducing these measures will allow employers to be held accountable in closing the gap where there is disparity”.

The petition – launched in March, before the death of George Floyd in the US triggered the current wave of Black Lives Matter protests – reached 100,000 signatures on Friday, the threshold at which parliament will consider holding a debate on the issue

As the Black Lives Matter movement has continued to press for equality in the US and elsewhere, companies seeking to support equal rights have come under increasing scrutiny about the make-up of their boards and their commitment to paying and treating non-white employees equally.

“Nobody’s asking for a CEO to take a knee. You take the knee after you change your policies,” Y-Vonne Hutchinson, founder of consultancy ReadySet, told The Wall Street Journal, following images online of JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon kneeling with his staff in solidarity with US protestors.

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Many companies have expressed solidarity with the movement over recent days. Lego told online affiliates to remove links to 31 mainly police-themed products, as part of its own stand “against racism and inequality”. UK fashion brand Asos said in an Instagram post that it would examine “every area of [the company], from leadership to recruitment, from training to mental health support”.

A UK government consultation on ethnicity pay reporting closed in January 2019, but the outcome is yet to be published. The government is yet to respond to the petition and a date for the parliamentary debate has not been set.

But as protests continued across the UK this weekend, prime minister Boris Johnson pledged to establish a commission investigating all aspects of racial inequality in the UK. Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has been assigned to oversee the review, which the prime minister said would examine “all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life”. 

Sandra Kerr, race director at Business in the Community (BITC), welcomed the petition. “It is time for the government to take action and implement mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting now,” she said, highlighting that, according to 2018 research conducted by BITC, just 11 per cent of UK employers were actively capturing ethnicity pay data.

Without any data on this, businesses were unable to “diagnose and take action to deal with their ethnicity pay gaps”, Kerr said. She added that “there is gross under-representation of black talent at top tables in the private and public sector and ethnicity pay gap reporting will ensure that this conversation remains an important issue for employers to action alongside their gender pay gap reporting”.

Aliya Mohammed, CEO of Race Equality First, also welcomed the petition. “Racism in employment is the most common area we deal with at Race Equality First,” she said. “We have laws that state that every person, regardless of their ethnicity or background, should be treated equally and allowed to fulfil their potential and to progress within their workplace. Yet these laws are not implemented and BME people are less likely to apply for and to be given promotions and they are more likely to be disciplined or judged harshly.”

Mohammed said the disproportionate number of Covid-19 deaths among BAME individuals had publicly exposed socio-economic, housing and employment inequalities in the UK. She added that this was “not news, however, as we have known about these inequalities for more than 20 years”.

Last week, the Women and Equalities Committee launched an enquiry into the impact of coronavirus on BAME communities. It said this would investigate the effect of government measures to contain the virus on non-white UK citizens, such as loss of income and protections for key workers.

“BAME people are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” said the committee’s chair, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes. “This has been shown by several studies and most recently Public Health England. But we have heard nothing from the government about what action it plans to take”.

The ethnicity pay gap petition followed increasing pressure for leaders to take action on this issue. In March this year, calls for ethnicity pay gap reporting were renewed as research revealed young people with BAME backgrounds were 47 per cent more likely to work zero-hours contracts than their white counterparts, and were 10 per cent more likely to hold a second job. At the time, Conservative peer Baroness Ruby Mcgregor-Smith called for “action rather than words” on the issue.

Earlier this year the government suspended gender pay gap reporting requirements to ease the burden on organisations dealing with the repercussions of the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, the number of organisations reporting their gender pay data this April was half that of last year. The average pay gap increased from 11.9 per cent to 12.9 per cent.