Marsha de Cordova criticises government inaction on workplace racism

Andrew Kersley

Labour’s Marsha de Cordova has criticised government inaction on workplace racism at a TUC Congress fringe event and noted that “nothing has been done” on mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting.

At a Zoom talk hosted by CLASS think tank director Faiza Shaheen, the Shadow Equalities Secretary suggested she also did not “hold out much hope” for the government’s new race equality commission.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in June a commission into all “aspects of inequality” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, but Labour criticised the move at the time saying actions, not more inquiries, were needed.

On the new commission, de Cordova said: “In the past three years this government has led many reviews into racial inequality and racial injustices and many recommendations have been made on the changes that need to happen.

“A few years ago, it was the race in the workplace review that recommended 26 clear, concise recommendations mostly targeted at businesses that focused on publishing data, providing career pathways and building inclusive networks.

“But I think the most significant recommendation was aimed at government and it actually called for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting and even though the government has consulted on this, two years later nothing has been done.”

De Cordova was referring to the 2017 McGregor-Smith Review that found racism and bias affected BAME people at every career stage. It offered 26 recommendations to the government that have yet to be implemented.

The Shadow Equalities Secretary added: “Whilst the government also had a golden opportunity to show that it cared and wanted to tackle some of those racial disparities, I don’t hold out much hope for the commission they’ve set up.”

She concluded: “There have been many reports with 200 recommendations that they could get about implementing and have chosen not. Racism is systemic and will require systemic solutions.”

The panel featured prominent BAME activists including War on Want executive director Asad Rehman, general secretary of teacher’s union NASUWT Patrick Roach and race equality campaigner Sandra Kerr.

Also speaking at the event was Gloria Mills, chair of the TUC Black members committee. She suggested that “the potency of racism” had worsened during Covid and that politicians had been “fanning the flames of racism” in recent years.

Responding to the economic struggles faced by BAME people she said: “There are huge economic injustices, huge economic inequalities and we know that unemployment rates have not changed for the past five decades.”

She added: “We could do a lot more in the trade union movement. And this is where I want unions to be more proactive. Because we need to step up, we need to stand up and we need to speak up more to protect Black workers.”

The fringe talk at the TUC’s 2020 Congress was jointly run by the CLASS think tank and TUC Black members committee and focused on racism in the workplace after the launch of the TUC’s new anti-racism taskforce.

At her opening address to the 2020 conference, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called on the government to “stand by working families” affected by Covid and offer a targeted extension to the furlough scheme.

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