Black and Asian frontline staff faced racial harassment during Covid-19 pandemic, watchdog finds

Poor data collection by their employers could also be masking the extent of discrimination against them, according to the inquiry report published on Thursday.

Lower-paid health and social care workers, who played a pivotal front-line role during the Covid-19 pandemic, experienced bullying, racism and harassment at work according to their evidence to an inquiry conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Poor data collection by their employers could also be masking the extent of discrimination against them, the watchdog also found.

Job insecurity in the health and adult social care sectors caused fear of victimisation among low-paid ethnic minority staff, particularly if they were to raise concerns, according to the inquiry which was launched in November 2020.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairperson of the EHRC said: “Health and social care staff, particularly those on the frontline, are among the heroes of the Covid pandemic. They faced significant pressure and risk in keeping us safe. Our inquiry found evidence that low-paid ethnic minority staff also faced discrimination and mistreatment in their workplaces.

“What is more troubling is that a lack of good data may allow discrimination to pass unnoticed. Robust workforce data is crucial so organisations know who works for them and what their employees’ experiences are, so they can take action to end bad practice.

“Our inquiry findings and recommendations will help equality and human rights law to be upheld. We will work with government, the NHS, local authorities, regulators and care providers to ensure that the working conditions of lower-paid workers in this sector are improved and that their crucial contribution to our health and our economy is recognised.”

The findings highlighted that in England and Wales, ethnic minority workers were more likely to be employed on zero-hour contracts and job insecurity also contributed to the fear of victimisation and loss of jobs.

This comes as new research shows that Black, Asian and minority ethnic women are twice as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men amid warnings that these working arrangement entrench workplace inequalities.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called on the government to publish its Employment Bill – which is supposed to better protect workers’ rights – and to ban zero-hours contracts in March.

“Insecure work is endemic in modern Britain, with more than a million people still having to rely on zero-hours contracts to make ends meet, and it is black and ethnic minority workers – particularly women – who are getting trapped in jobs with the worst pay and the worst conditions, struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table,” she said.

The EHRC inquiry examined the experiences of workers from a range of ethnic minorities employed in lower-paid roles in the health and adult social care sectors across England, Scotland and Wales. Their roles included healthcare assistants, porters, cleaners, security staff and residential, home and personal care workers.

Work-related factors that may have contributed to their risk of contracting Covid-19 were also examined, such as hours worked, workplace culture, workplace training and policies.

The 67-page report exposes a lack of data about these workers, linked to poor levels of responsibility and accountability for them by the outsourced organisations that employ them. The report highlights that the missing data could mask the scale of discrimination against lower-paid ethnic minority workers in health and social care settings.

Some 39 MPs from the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Scottish National Party wrote to the government calling on them to include the unequal impact of the pandemic on minoritised communities in their Covid inquiry terms of reference.

The letter, co-ordinated by Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, also asked ministers to hear evidence from the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations (FEMHO).

Baroness Hallett, a former High Court judge, said her team would gather evidence throughout this year and the inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic will not hold public hearings until 2023.

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