MSPs call for action to tackle ‘institutional racism’ in public sector employment

Black faces are a rarity in the ranks of of Scotland’s public bodies, says committee.

Pictures by Bill Heaney

By Democrat reporter

West Dunbartonshire Council will be one of the public bodies which may be compelled to publish employee ethnicity pay data to address “institutional racism” and tackle the “unacceptable” levels of unemployment and in-work poverty among minority ethnic communities in Scotland.

Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, which has been investigating what actions are being taken to make sure minority ethnic communities have parity of employment and career progression, urged public authorities to produce an action plan to increase the number of people they employ from minority ethnic communities and reduce the ethnicity pay gap in their organisations.

The focus of the Committee’s inquiry was employers covered by the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010, which includes large employers like local authorities, health boards as well as other public bodies. Removal of the barriers faced by black and minority ethnic groups in accessing employment opportunities is key to addressing inequalities in housing, health, education, and participation in public life.

The Committee heard evidence that, despite various initiatives, recruitment, retention and progression of minority ethnic groups in the workplace had regressed over the last two decades and that there was a resistance on the part of employers to acknowledge the existence of institutional racism and its effects.

MSPs made a series of recommendations to address the issues highlighted by the inquiry. In a report published today, the Committee called for more use of “positive actions” to address under-representation of minority ethnic communities in the public sector workforce, and new regulations to require public bodies to publish their ethnicity pay gap, with an action plan to deliver identified outcomes with associated timescales.

Committee Convener, Ruth Maguire MSP, said:“The inquiry heard evidence that unemployment and in-work poverty remains disproportionately higher for people from minority ethnic communities than it is in the majority of the population. We are seriously concerned by the lack of progress in tackling this issue.

“It is extremely disappointing and frustrating that we regularly have to revisit this issue, and it’s little wonder that during our inquiry we heard many witnesses and representatives of black and minority ethnic communities refer to ‘consultation fatigue’.

“From the evidence we heard, there is a sense that many employers prefer to look outwards rather than inwards; as though the issue lies with the minority ethnic communities, when the reality is that the issue lies with the public authorities themselves.

“It is evident that a key factor within this is the failure of the leaders of public authorities to acknowledge the existence of institutional racism and, in so doing, failing to act to deliver a culture shift within their organisations.

“The Committee is unanimously of the view that, despite all the mechanisms at the disposal of public authorities, including their equality duties and responsibilities, the ethnicity employment gap remains unacceptable and much more needs to be done to reduce the ethnicity pay gap, so we see more minority ethnic people in senior positions.”

Women of colour – “public sector employers [should] prioritise employment from minority ethnic communities within their strategic plans”.

Ms Maguire added: “Leaders of public authorities need to be accountable for their organisations’ record on employment of ethnic minority people. They must demonstrate leadership in this area. Now is the time for them to take concerted, definitive action.

“To address the lack of progress to date and decades of damage, our report recommends that public sector employers prioritise employment from minority ethnic communities within their strategic plans. We also recommend the Scottish Government regulates to ensure public authorities publish their ethnicity pay gap figures and set out actions to deliver improvements within an agreed time frame.

“We sincerely hope that our successor committee will not have to revisit this subject, unless it is to reflect on the result of positive action, accountability, and eradication of institutional racism in Scotland.”

In the last session of the Scottish Parliament the Equal Opportunities Committee conducted an inquiry into race, ethnicity and employment. Its report, ‘Removing Barriers: race, ethnicity and employment’ was published in 2016, and its recommendations were instrumental in the development of the Scottish Government’s Race Equality Framework, which sets out how race equality should be delivered from 2016-2030.

However, in late 2019 the Equalities and Human Rights Committee heard evidence from representative community organisations and academics that progress had stalled, following which the committee agreed to undertake an inquiry into race equality, employment and skills.

A summary of written evidence in response to the Committee’s call for views has been published on its webpage. The committee also held oral evidence sessions throughout.

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