Inequality is the enemy of public health – that’s one of the big lessons of this pandemic, UNISON’s Rakiya Suleiman told STUC delegates as she backed an action plan which included measures to address the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the Black population.
The 11-point plan, from five health unions, South Lanarkshire & East Kilbride Trades Union Council and the STUC Black Workers’ Conference, also addressed the risks posed to women in the NHS by the male-design of some PPE; the effect of lockdown on young people’s health; the risk to women trapped in abusive households; and protection for health staff who whistleblow about problems. It also pledged to support union campaigns to remove private contractors from the NHS.
Rakiya, speaking for the STUC Black Members Conference, listed the shocking figures: “Black workers are over four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people. Of the first 100 deaths in frontline health and care jobs around 70% were Black, Asian or minority ethnic workers.
“Deaths amongst people in the South Asian ethnic group in Scotland have been almost twice as likely to involve COVID-19 as deaths in the White ethnic group.
“That’s been a wake-up call for a lot of people– because too often issues around race and race inequality have been overlooked or neglected within health and social care.”
Early in the pandemic UNISON surveyed its members –10% of the responses came from black workers so it was able to compare their experiences with their white colleagues.
“We found that discrimination – and fear and silence linked to it – was creating the perfect conditions for spreading infection”, explained Rakiya.
“The Black members responding to our survey said they experience unfair work more than their white colleagues. They had greater difficulties accessing appropriate PPE. So they were more fearful than their white colleagues. And workers living in fear do not use sick pay rights or challenge unsafe work.”
“UNISON’s core message over the past year has been that Bad Jobs Kill and Fair Work Saves Lives. Inequality on grounds of race is a common underlying feature of unfair work. We mustn’t forget that when this public health crisis is over.
“Trade unions must be at the forefront of tackling institutional racism within health care and in every sector and ending discrimination against black workers. We must make sure that it is kept at the heart of the fight for Fair Work. “