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Friday 3 March 2017

Letter to EHRC from Race Equality Orgs : sacking of black staff


David Isaacs CBE
Equality and Human Rights Commission
Fleetbank House
2-6 Salisbury Square
London EC4Y 8JX 3 March 2017

Dear David Isaac,

It is with sincere regret that we feel obliged to write to you about the decline in the number of BAME staff at the Commission.

It has come to our attention that the number of BAME staff - especially visible minorities - has been declining for several years without any serious attempt to halt or reverse it.

We understand that twelve members of staff were selected for compulsory redundancy. Only two of the twelve staff are White British. Eight are from a BAME background, four are Muslim, six are disabled.  Apparently, seven of the twelve members of staff were unceremoniously ‘sacked’ by email on 9 February and told their last day would be 10 February.

We further understand there are no visible minorities amongst the senior management team. The only one Black director, who was on the team, was among the twelve workers who were made redundant.  We also understand that all but two of your remaining BAME workers are in the lowest three grades.

We consider this a matter of grave concern.

The legacy commission, the Commission for Racial Equality, possessed a unique racial justice acumen shaped by its diverse workforce at every level and in all departments. We believe if the Commission is not similarly diverse, it will lose credibility, authority and legitimacy with the public.

In our opinion, it is not satisfactory or acceptable simply to say the percentage of BAME workers reflects the percentage in the national population and especially not with main offices in London and Manchester. But this is not just about numbers: the personal experiences and viewpoints, which a diverse workforce brings, are essential if the Commission is to challenge the majority or mainstream beliefs. In a climate of rising levels of racist and Islamophobic attacks and where the majority opinion in GB seems to be anti-immigrant, anti-Black and anti-Muslim, then it is even more important that the Commission’s staff can stand firm against prevailing views. We believe this means recruiting a larger percentage than that in the national population - or even the local population where that is higher than the national figure.

Also worrying is the assessment of these workers as having no skills. Some of them were at the forefront of maintaining good relations in times of heightened racial tensions during periods of riots, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, and the 7/7 terror attacks. Such an assessment disregards the value of this work and their commitment to the protection and promotion of equality and human rights. (Presumably, it is a specification for working at the Commission that employees have a demonstrable understanding of discrimination and good relations?).

On a personal front, BAME workers are only too painfully aware of discrimination, racism and social injustice. You are unlikely to know the individuals, but each one will have a personal history of struggle, obstacles and racism. Yet, the Commission has effectively told them they have no skills to hold a job with it and their experiences have been dismissed with the cold despatch of an email.

We realise the Commission’s website says it plans to address any under-representation with positive action measures. This has been the Commission’s answer to the decline in the number of BAME staff since 2011/12 when the numbers started to fall dramatically. Yet, as far as we are aware, the Commission has never used positive action measures, despite its assurances to do so.

But, more importantly, we do not consider that BAME staff or job applicants lack the skills for a position at the Commission or that positive action is necessary to equip them with the necessary skills. Given the nature of the work, we think it is, quite frankly, an insult to suggest that they lack the skills. The Commission had BAME senior professionals, lawyers and directors but almost all have gone. And we believe it will be difficult to recruit BAME staff with this poor history as it doesn’t inspire confidence or respect.

Whilst we’ve welcomed your recent statements on race hate crime, we do not believe you can or should speak for our communities. And whilst you might consult us as stakeholders, we also want to see our communities represented amongst your workforce - and not just in lower grades. Until we see progress in this area, you risk losing our trust and confidence.

We take this opportunity to remind you that the Paris Principles on the status and functions of national human rights bodies require such bodies to be ‘established in accordance with a procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the protection and promotion of human rights.’ The Principles also require them to work with others ‘to combat racism, to protect particularly vulnerable groups (especially children, migrant workers, refugees, physically and mentally disabled persons)...’

Unfortunately, we doubt whether the Commission can meet these obligations.

We were also appalled by the brutal manner by which the Commission terminated the contracts of those made redundant on 9 February. We understand they were served with redundancy notices by email while they were on strike - a strike called by the trades unions - and told the next day would be their last day. Trade union rights are protected human rights. And the requirement for ‘pluralist representation’ includes trades union representation.

This behaviour must be unprecedented for any employer. But, we rightly expect more from the Commission than other employer. But, even if the Commission followed a lawful process, we still expect a fair and compassionate process - to do what’s morally right, not just what is lawful.

We would like to conclude by affirming our support for a strong and effective national equality and human rights body which is diverse at all levels - and not just in terms of race but other characteristics. (We are also worried by a similar decline in the number of disabled and older staff).

Sadly, we now have serious doubts about the Commission’s credibility, authority and legitimacy with our communities.

We would welcome an opportunity to discuss our concerns with you in a meeting.

Finally, please kindly note other organisations share our concerns but they were unable to sign at this time.

Yours sincerely,

Lord Herman Ouseley
Hanef Bhamjee, OBE, Secretary, Action for Southern Africa –Wales
Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London, UCU Black Members' Standing Committee
Peter Herbert, Society of Black Lawyers
Michael McEachrane, PhD, co-founder of IDPAD Coalition UK
GMB Regional Equality Forum
Momentum Black Caucus
Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council
Operation Black Vote
Race Equality Matters (REM)
Wellingborough Black Consortium

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