Lambeth Council isn’t taking racism issues seriously
On Thursday 12 July the Council arranged a BAME forum advertised as an ‘important’ opportunity for ‘as many staff as possible’ to ‘influence the new EDI steering Group’. UNISON strongly objected to the Council’s proposal that all forum meetings being publicised as being open to all staff. Despite this the Council carried on without adequate prior consultation with the trade unions, nor any consultation whatsoever with Black staff in particular.
Unison encouraged staff to attend and in particular those who had complained of race discrimination at work. Black/BAME staff said that they would only attend if there were no white staff present so that they would have a ‘safe space’ to raise and discuss their experience of racism at work. As a priority staff wanted to use the forum as an opportunity to discuss ways in which they could work with the employer to raise awareness of racism at work. Unison advised staff that if there were white staff or senior managers present they would be free to leave.
Half an hour into the meeting the most senior Human Resources professional in the Council, turned up at the meeting and was the only white person present. Unison’s most senior Black representative, Hassina Malik, privately asked him to leave. He refused to do so. This conduct further victimises those who are already victims of racism at work.
Proper spaces needed
It seems that senior white managers of the Council are unwilling to allow space for Black workers to share their concerns without the participation of those who do not share our experience of racism. Black/BAME staff at that meeting and throughout the Council are being denied the opportunity of meaningful self-expression.
Later in the meeting there were presentations from two young Black people that also raised concerns from staff. In these presentations staff were told that younger, newer staff had a fresh perspective on working in Lambeth, that Black staff needed to raise the quality of their job applications; that labels were unhelpful and that when you are knocked down, don’t complain but pick yourself up and continue.
Needless to say staff challenged these comments assuring the young presenters that BAME staff in Lambeth have always been embracing change and new perspectives for some considerable time; staff correctly said that the problem was not that BAME staff were not qualified for senior posts but that discrimination was a glass ceiling preventing progress.
Although the Council is aware that Black staff in particular have been experiencing a rise in racism at work, the organisers of the meeting failed to mention discrimination at all. They did not mention that Black staff are disproportionately likely to be made redundant, to be disciplined, to be paid less.
- UNISON will continue to demand that Black/BAME staff provided with a forum and a safe space to raise and discuss our experience of discrimination at work.
- UNISON will continue to STAND UP for the RIGHTS of Black/BAME staff to work without fear of racism