STANDING TOGETHER: Members of Unite
MANY BLACK and Asian ethnic minority (BAEM) workers are employed in some of the most dangerous jobs and industries. Additionally, as many BAEM workers do unsocial hours and are on zero hours contracts, they are more likely to suffer ill health as a result.
Unite ensures that all workplaces have an elected health and safety representative who can then run targeted safety campaigns to improve conditions.
We also want to make sure that health and safety and other publications are available in languages other than English.
BAEM workers have similar health and safety issues – however, it is known that some ethnic groups are more likely to have diabetes, prostate cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. There are also some illnesses and diseases that are specific to African and Caribbean or certain ethnic groups, such as sickle cell and thalassaemia.
Unite recognises the importance of raising awareness and negotiating fair procedures around specific health problems that are prevalent among African, Caribbean or Asian people. Some of these conditions are extremely severe and can be fatal. They can affect BAEM people acutely since they often go through a lot of pain and demanding treatments.
Unite will raise awareness with employers and our members on the seriousness of conditions specific to BAEM workers. It will also campaign for a fair and decent system of care and support, devoid of race discrimination, in the health service. Unite reps will ensure that employers have an understanding of specific conditions affecting BAEM workers. They negotiate for policies that provide support for BAEM workers’ health and safety at work.
NEGOTIATOR: Harish Patel, National Officer for Equalities at the Unite union
In spite of the signicant size of t he UK BAEM population, the occupational health and safety of BAEM workers is under-researched and in most cases, data is not collected.
However, Unite reps can negotiate with employers to collect this information to help prevent accidents and ill health. Key to health and safety management is to take equality issues seriously, be inclusive and avoid making prior assumptions about what the hazards are and who is at risk. Unite’s black and Asian ethnic minority health and safety reps play an important role in preventing and raising awareness on workplace health and safety. It is vital to elect more BAEM members, particularly BAEM women as safety reps in all our workplaces.
Health inequality and BAEM workers
Health, safety and equality at work is a key issue for Unite.
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology published a paper in 2007 which summarised research on ethnicity and health inequalities.
It said that Black and Asian ethnic minority people generally have worse health than the overall population, with some groups faring worse than others. The main cause of this health inequality, the paper points out, is the poorer socio-economic position of BAEM people. It suggests that racism and discrimination, poor delivery of health services and poor take up of health services are among the main reasons. This inequality causes undue stress for BAEM workers as a result of work pressures, race and sex discrimination, bullying and harassment.
An equality-sensitive approach to health and safety
In recent years, the UK labour market has become much more ethnically diverse. Therefore, treating everyone in the same way is not only wrong but also means that opportunities for prevention can be missed.
Equality sensitive risk assessment is a way forward to prevent ill health and accidents at work and to implement action for a safe and healthy workplace for BAEM workers.
Role of safety reps
To ensure the health, safety and well-being of black and Asian ethnic minority members, a range of issues need to be tackled including stress, musculoskeletal disorders, sickle cell and thalassaemia, mental health, HIV and cancer; tackle racial discrimination at work; raise awareness on the seriousness of certain conditions and negotiate fair procedures around specific health issues affecting BAEM members.
Under Health and Safety law employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of all their employees. They should also consider equality issues such as race and gender discrimination.
Contact Unite the Union at Unite House, 128 Theobalds Road, London, WC1X 8TN, 020 7611 2643.
Click here to visit the Unite website.
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