Black members’ concerns raised in Scottish Parliament

Michael Richardson, branch equalities officer and Ian Mullen, branch health & safety officer are working together to ensure the concerns of our Black members, in relation to Covid-19, are heard. In UNISON, Black with a capital B is used in its broadest political and inclusive sense to describe people in Britain that have suffered colonialism and enslavement in the past and continue to experience racism and diminished opportunities today. There are organisations and individuals who use terms such as BME (Black & Minority Ethnic) and BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) when referencing these communities.

Recently Ian and Michael wrote to Sarah Boyack MSP asking her to raise an issue with the Scottish Government. The main points were the inequality faced by our Black members and the lack of clarity around how that inequality should be addressed by employers. Sarah kindly took time to write to us following her speech earlier this week in which she also addressed the Black Lives Matter human rights movement.

“My speech in Parliament drew attention to the recent events after the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement and, like many of my colleagues and Labour Party members, it has made us all think hard about issues surrounding race. We have seen protests across the world and here in Scotland, too, but we have also seen the extent to which Covid19 has disproportionately impacted on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.

Our key services are staffed by members of these communities who are particularly vulnerable to the Coronavirus. I have been contacted by UNISON City of Edinburgh branch representatives who were understandably concerned at the lack of guidance available to councils. They feel that guidance is crucial in helping them support those black and ethnic minority staff, and we are all keen to improve the lives of those who are doing so much vital work.

I asked the Scottish Government to produce a race equality impact assessment and action plan to help address this issue. We cannot claim to be a truly just and democratic society if we fail to consider the needs of those most heavily affected by the pandemic. If we are to emerge from recent events a better society, it is vital that health and safety at work is at the forefront of employers’ concerns.

We have a chance to incorporate the evidence we now have of those communities’ experience of the pandemic and use it for good. And not just for health and safety: we must address all structural inequalities that create barriers to minority communities. It’s not enough to just condemn outright occurrences of racism. We must listen. We must have difficult conversations. We must learn. And we must build back better”.

Thanks to Sarah for raising this on behalf of our branch members.

We understand that a new expert group has been set up by the Scottish Government to “provide a clearer picture of the impact on minority ethnic communities of Covid-19”. Their findings along with the lived experience of our Black members will empower us to work with employers to ensure that our Black members are correctly protected and supported.

Please get in contact with our branch if you want to share your story.