If UKIP are to be believed there is no longer a problem with racism in UK society, let alone in employment. On that basis the ‘we’re not racist but …’ UKIP are keen on the scrapping of race discrimination laws that provide some (marginal) legal protections for minority groups in the UK.
Over recent months the Police in the UK have appeared to be on a mission to prove UKIP wrong.
On the receiving end, there it is incontrovertible that the exercise of stop and search powers are disproportionately applied to BME citizens. This despite the recognition following the MacPherson Report that the Metropolitan Police were institutionally racist and the enactment of the Public Sector Equality Act.
A decade on and there have been attempts by the Conservative led government to scale back on these protections with the government encouraging public authorities that it should not complete equality impact assessments, removing the ability of Employment Tribunals to make recommendations to employers to eliminate future discrimination, and the attempted repeal of section 3 of the Equality Act 2006 against which PCS campaigned.
It was the racism of the Police revealed in the Stephen Lawrence case that provided such an impetus to the development of equality law. Over the last year we have seen that despite these advances there remain significant problems of racism within the Police; even within the way it treats its own employees there have been clear pockets of racism.
In a highly publicised judgement last September the former PC Carol Howard found the Met Police and racially discriminated against her and then proceeded to victimise her for challenging that behaviour. In their award of compensation the Tribunal also made the rare step of awarding aggravated damages which can be given only where an employer has acted “in a high-handed, malicious, insulting or oppressive way“. Predictably, in the aftermath there were claims that this was ‘an isolated instance’. Similar claims were made months later when PC Ricky Haruna won another tribunal for Racism of senior officers.
Less than a year later another Police force has again been found to discriminated against a PC on the ground of race. Ronnie Lungu is a PC in the Wiltshire Police Service – a Tribunal found last week that senior officers had intentionally downgraded internal appraisals to ensure he would not gain a promotion. The Tribunal found
The reduction in the scoring has the very significant effect in terms of making it appear reasonable that the one black applicant for promotion was scoring lower than the 19 white applicants and should therefore not be promoted … This behaviour is so extreme that the tribunal cannot think of any apparent motive other than one that is directly related to [the] claimant’s race.”
In short, because Mr Lungu was black senior officers blocked his promotion and, as the tribunal also found, failed to take adequate action when colleagues had made racist remarks.
As any trade union rep knows for every one employee willing to take a discrimination employment tribunal against their employer there are at least 10 who are too scared, and that is not inclusive of those put off by employment tribunal fees. These cases then, are just the tip of an iceberg.
And so, at the time that Conservatives desire cutting anti-discrimination safeguards in employment in the name of cutting red tape, and UKIP want to scrap race discrimination laws themselves the evidence in the Police service – the racism of which prompted these safeguards in the first place – strongly suggests that while there may have been improvements the work is a long, long way from completion. In parts at least, racism lives on in the UK’s police forces; the UK needs more safeguards and meaningful protections, not less.