28 February 2017
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has launched a working group to discuss improving work opportunities for BME workers but has not invited any representatives of BME workers to participate
The establishment of the new Business Diversity and Inclusion Group was announced today alongside the publication of a review led by Baroness McGregor-Smith into the barriers facing BME workers, which urged businesses to diversify their workforce.
According to the Review, the UK economy could receive a boost of £24 billion if BME workers saw the same progression as their white colleagues, raising GDP by 1.3% a year.
People from BME backgrounds make up around 14% of the population, but the employment rate among this group is 12% lower than their white counterparts. BME workers are more likely to have low-skilled, low-wage jobs – even though they are more likely to have a degree – and only 6% reach senior management roles. Around 15.3% of BME workers would like to work more hours, compared with 11.5% of white workers.
The Review recommends that employers of over 50 workers publish their equality statistics, much like new gender pay gap reporting guidelines; generate five-year targets to diversify their workforce; and nominate a board member to take responsibility for meeting these targets.
But Business Secretary Margot James fell short of suggesting any enforceable legislation to put the onus on businesses to follow through.
Instead, she announced the establishment of the Business Diversity and Inclusion Group, which will be chaired by Margot James and will bring business and government leaders together to “improve inclusiveness and opportunities in the workplace”.
The group will consist of representatives from the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, Business in the Community, the Financial Reporting Council, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
It seems representatives for BME workers, however, have not been invited to the meeting. No trade union or any other group that represents people from a BME background has been asked to contribute to the ongoing work.
The Institute of Employment Rights has long called for better representation for workers across the economy, including at the highest levels of government. In our Manifesto for Labour Law – 25 recommendations for reform, the principles of which have been adopted by the Labour Party – we call for the re-establishment of a Ministry of Labour to represent workers’ interests in Westminster, and a National Economic Forum, at which workers’ representatives will have a seat besides other key stakeholders to ensure the impact of legislation on all sections of society is properly considered.
For BME workers in particular, as well as other groups facing discrimination, we propose that both anti-discrimination laws and access to justice need to be strengthened. Today’s shocking statistics are enough to demonstrate that today’s equality laws are not working as intended to create a fully diverse workforce and truly equal opportunity to people with protected characteristics.
Some of our proposals relating specifically to equality include:
- There should be a greater legal scope permitted for positive action – that is deliberately recruiting workers with protected characteristics in order to diversify the workplace;
- There should be a statutory duty placed on employers to monitor the composition of their workforce and carry out regular equal pay audits.
- Employers should be required by legislation to create in each workplace an equal opportunities forum, where equality and discrimination issues are discussed with trade union representatives;
- There should be a duty to provide for the election of equality officers from recognised trade unions
In terms of access to justice for BME workers, we believe there are barriers to taking discrimination cases to tribunal that must be removed. For instance:
- The pre-claim questionnaire procedure should be restored in discrimination cases
- Employment tribunals should be re-empowered to make general recommendations in discrimination claims, going beyond the individual claimant.
- Employment tribunals should be free at the point of use to claimants
- A Labour Inspectorate with the right to enforce the law should be established to ensure laws and collective agreements are properly followed at the workplace