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Coronavirus: Black and ethnic minority workers hit particularly hard by employment crisis

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Saleha Riaz
·3-min read
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Multi-ethnic team of workers wearing overalls and protective helmets using lathe in order to machine workpiece, interior of spacious production department on background
Multi-ethnic team of workers wearing overalls and protective helmets using lathe in order to machine workpiece, interior of spacious production department on background

Black and minority (BME) workers have been hit significantly harder by the employment crisis sparked by COVID-19 in the last year than their white counterparts.

One in 12 BME workers are now unemployed, compared to just one in 22 of white workers, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found.

And the employment rate for people from BME backgrounds has dropped 5.3% over the last year, around 26 times the fall in the rate for those from white backgrounds.

In the UK, the categorisation BME or BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) is commonly used by the government, statistical bodies, and other institutions. However, the term has been raised as being problematic as it pools together all non-white demographics into one category, which can mask community-specific issues and impacts.

TUC’s data also reveals that the number of Black women working in arts and entertainment has dropped by two fifths.

The number of BME workers in the accommodation and food sector has fallen by 23%, compared to 13% among white workers.

A similar pattern can be seen in the wholesale and retail sector, TUC said.

The UK’s overall unemployment rate is expected to peak at about 7.5% sometimes between April and June, according to data from the Office for Budget Responsibility. But 8.5% of BME people are already out of work, TUC noted.

The organisation is calling on the government to challenge systemic racism: “the time for excuses and delays is over. Ministers must challenge the systemic racism and inequality that holds back BME people at work,” said its general secretary Frances O’Grady.

READ MORE: Ethnic minority workers face significant 'pay penalties' in hospitality sector

The TUC has urged the government to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, ban zero-hours contracts which it said disproportionately impact BME workers, and publish all equality impact assessments on government responses to the pandemic.

Patrick Roach, who chairs the TUC’s anti-racism taskforce, said: “During previous economic downturns, BME workers have been ‘first out and last in’. The government needs to address the causes and effects of structural racism and set out a national recovery plan that works for everyone.”

O’Grady also said those who have held on to their jobs “are more likely to be working in low-paid, insecure jobs that put them at greater risk from the virus.”

Black and minority workers have also suffered disproportionately from the virus itself.

"People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity had between 10% and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British,” noted a Public Health England report titled “Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] groups.”

“It is clear from discussions with stakeholders that COVID-19 in their view did not create health inequalities, but rather the pandemic exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequalities affecting BAME groups in the UK,” the report added.

An earlier report by the Resolution Foundation noted that workers from BAME backgrounds are disproportionately likely to work in the hospitality sector when compared with White British workers, but face significant “pay penalties” in these jobs.

In October, the UK Financial Conduct Authority said about a third of adults have experienced a decrease in household income due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with BAME groups among those most likely to struggle.

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