An inquiry performed by Britain’s equality regulator, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), has revealed that lower-paid ethnic minority health and social care staff, who played a crucial front-line role during the COVID-19 epidemic, were subjected to bullying, racism, and harassment on the job.
However, according to the study, poor data collection by their employers may potentially be concealing the worrying level of prejudice against them.
The investigation revealed that employment uncertainty in the health and adult social care sectors drove low-paid ethnic minority employees to fear victimisation, particularly if they raised concerns.
The findings revealed that ethnic minority employees in England and Wales were more likely to be working on zero-hour contracts, and that employment instability contributed to the fear of victimisation and job loss.
Initiated in November 2020 by the EHRC, the investigation explored the experiences of employees from a variety of ethnic minorities engaged in lower-paying positions in the health and adult social care sectors of England, Scotland, and Wales.
They served as healthcare assistants, porters, cleaners, security personnel, and residential, home, and personal care employees.
Work-related factors that may have contributed to their risk of developing COVID-19, including hours worked, workplace culture, workplace training, and workplace rules, were also investigated.
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman 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.”
Dr Lesley Sawers OBE, EHRC Scotland Commissioner, said: “There are currently significant reforms under consideration in Scotland, including the establishment of a National Care Service and the reform of equality duties for public bodies.
“These present real opportunities to put our recommendations into action and tackle the inequalities highlighted by our inquiry.
“We call on the Scottish Government and local authorities, health boards and health and social care regulators to work with us to help bring about the change required to improve equality in this vital sector.”
Eryl Besse, EHRC Wales Commissioner, said: “Our inquiry heard that ethnic minority workers in Wales lacked trust in workplace systems and feared negative repercussions if they raised concerns about work conditions.
“Some experienced barriers in accessing training opportunities or struggled to find out about basic entitlements such as holiday and sick pay.
“Our Wales briefing highlights several recent developments and upcoming opportunities to improve the working environment for ethnic minority workers in health and social care.
“Recent positive developments include action to pay residential and domiciliary care workers the real living wage and the publication by the Welsh Government of its Anti-Racist Wales Action Plan. But more will need to be done to address the concerns we identify.”
Commenting, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Black workers make a vital contribution to the health and care sector but are all too often at the bottom of the pay scale as care workers, porters, healthcare assistants and catering staff.
“They frequently face shocking discrimination, threatening their health, job security and life chances.
“Reversing decades of underfunding, privatisation and hostile immigration policies that allow discrimination to thrive are the way to make a lasting difference.
“Ministers can begin to put things right by embedding the real living wage, guaranteeing proper wage rises and ensuring decent sick pay.
“Investment in training and development to improve the chances for neglected staff will also help turn things around.
“But lofty words about reforming health and social care won’t mean a thing unless the workforce are treated properly, respected and given the opportunities they deserve to access higher paid roles.”