Change must come this time to eradicate racism

16 Jun 2020

The Cabinet Office must work with PCS to take decisive action to eradicate racism from the civil service and deliver social justice, our general secretary Mark Serwotka has stressed on behalf of PCS.

In a letter to Mervyn Thomas, the Cabinet Office executive director of employee and trade union relations, we said there have been numerous opportunities in recent times when “outpourings of anger at the systemic racism within our society have presented opportunities for a fresh focus on righting the wrongs.”

But despite unions pressing for action “little of substance has been delivered despite warm sentiments expressed by ministers and senior managers.”

We made clear that this time “things must be different” and that our union would like to see immediate action on a number of issues, particularly in relation to the coronavirus crisis.

Risk assessment

Evidence from an Office for National Statistics and Public Health England report indicates that black and minority ethnic people are more than 4 times as likely to die from Covid-19 as white people of the same age. The government and civil service should acknowledge the collective and individual trauma black members may be experiencing due to coronavirus impacts.

The situation needs to be addressed urgently and a proactive approach taken as opposed to awaiting reports and recommendations. Employers have a duty of care to ensure that this happens.

As a matter of urgency, we are asking that a generic risk assessment be worked up in conjunction with the unions that will be applied for all BAME staff members who are due to return to or are in their workplace. All BAME people are at high risk – this is linked to socio-economic factors, including where people live, housing provision and their type of work.

In addition, health factors and conditions will put some BAME people at extremely high risk, not just high risk. The impacts are not just on the individual but also those they live with and have caring responsibilities for. We therefore also want to see equality impact assessments and individual assessments.

Using the pause

As far as we are aware, during the current crisis, many HR processes such as promotions and requests for lateral transfers have been put on hold.

All the available evidence we have is that BAME staff do worse from all these processes. We also know from annual surveys that bullying, discrimination and intimidation remain at high levels and, despite initiatives, things have not substantially changed over all the years.

There is nothing to indicate that, when things get back to near normal, any of this will change. We believe that there must be a clear indication this will not be the case.

We are therefore asking the civil service to pause re-activating these HR processes and, instead, agree with us major changes to all the processes so they offer equality of treatment and outcome for all staff.

We want to see concrete changes in outcome – for example, that BAME staff are promoted in the same proportion as white staff, and that they are not disproportionately subject to the disciplinary processes.

Black Lives Matter

The legacy of colonialism has led to institutional racism in society, including within the civil service where there is a race pay gap and where racist harassment and bullying continues to occur.

The recommendations in the Windrush Lessons Learned report, which focused on the Home Office but applies across the civil service, include calls for:

· A race advisory board

· A review of diversity and inclusion training,

· Teaching of black history

· Addressing under-representation and monitoring of race cases.

As a result of the coronavirus crisis and the disproportionate impact on BAME people, BAME civil service staff are experiencing trauma and a fear of contracting Covid-19. The civil service has a duty of care to these staff who need the full support of their employer at this time.

The letter ends by saying the civil service must “rise to the challenge, and work with the trade unions to deliver social justice and an end to racism.”

We will keep members informed when we receive a response. In the meantime, register for our Zoom meeting on Thursday (18) for black members on coronavirus, and look out for our Facebook live event on Black Lives Matter.


PCS campaigns for justice in wider society as well as in the workplace. This is especially important now that black people in the UK are facing the impact of current events including coronavirus in addition to police brutality and racial profiling and institutional racism which have existed for decades.

We have a proud, long-standing involvement in family justice campaigns including Stephen Lawrence, Jay Abatan, Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg, Sarah Reed and others.

As we approach National Windrush Day on 22 June, which is supposed to be a day of celebration of the contribution of Caribbean people to the UK, it is a disgrace that the vast majority of victims of the Windrush Scandal have still not received compensation and some are destitute, while others have sadly died.

Boris Johnson has announced a commission to look into race inequality and has appointed a former special adviser to lead it who has denied institutional racism exists and who has stated that anti-racists have created a culture of grievances. Our members have every right to use the HR policies and the law to raise complaints when they face discrimination. There is enough evidence that institutional racism exists. We don't need another investigation, what we need is action.

You can find out more on PCS equality campaigns by:

· Joinin the PCS Black Members Facebook group

· Reading our charter for equality

· Supporting these campaigns we are affiliated to - BARAC UK, Stand Up To Racism, United Families and Friends Campaign.

· Read statements from the PCS National Black Members Committee and Mark Serwotkla and Fran Heathcote on behalf of PCS on Black Lives Matters and George Floyd.

Have you experienced a racial incident at work? Do you feel unable to contact your local union representative? Call the 24-hour racial incident helpline: 020 7801 2678

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