General Secretary's Report: Black and Minority Ethnic Issues

This is the section of the section of the General Secretary's report to RMT's 2009 AGM concerning the the union's work on black and ethnic minority workers' issues ...

BLACK & ETHNIC SURVEY

Mention was made in last year's report of the survey of our black and minority ethnic members. The purpose of the survey was to test the anecdotal evidence of lack of promotion with the experience of all our black and minority ethnic members. The opportunity was also taken to gather information on racial discrimination and harassment in the workplace. A full report of the data was presented to the Council of Executives last August.

The strategy to make use of the survey results to promote the interests of our black and minority ethnic members was developed in consultation with our National Black & Ethnic Minority Members' Committee. Copies of the survey have been sent to companies highlighting our members' perception that race discrimination does creep into selection and secondment procedures. We have also asked companies to allow a union rep to sit as an observer on selection panels to ensure fair play and importantly that companies monitor in accordance with the CRE Code of Practice.

CLEANING GRADE MEMBERS - THIRD PARTY PRESSURE

The anger and frustration of our cleaning members who witness their colleagues being unfairly sacked at the whim of a third party is shared by all those who believe in natural justice. The resolution carried at last year's AGM clearly expressed the frustration of the lack of success at Employment Tribunals when we have sought justice for members treated in such a way.

I have since sought the advice of one of the country's top QCs, John Hendy, who has worked tirelessly for workers throughout his legal career. Crucially, the advice obtained was that under the present law, it is almost certainly not possible to challenge such dismissals in an Employment Tribunal. John went on to say that:-

"There is no legal pathway for an unfair dismissal claim to be laid at the door of any entity other than the ex-employer of the worker sacked. The fact of third party pressure may in fact absolve the actual employer from responsibility since the latter is permitted to claim that it has 'some other substantial reason' for sacking the worker, namely that a third party with economic power over it required it to dismiss the worker."

I also asked that if dismissals could not be effectively challenged in tribunals, what changes would be required in employment law to achieve justice for our members. John helpfully provided the example of where trade unions can be cited as a third party in tribunal proceedings where a worker is alleging discrimination for joining or refusing to join a union. Importantly in this example, the third party can be made to pay compensation. It should not be impossible to have a suitable provision drafted which would apply in third party pressure cases.

We recognise that for the law to be changed will necessitate a political campaign. This will inevitably involve the TUC and other unions if maximum publicity is to be achieved.

Arrangements have been made at the time of writing for a preliminary meeting with RMT's Parliamentary Panel to discuss the best way forward.

IMMIGRATION CHECKS AT WORK

I am pleased that a guidance booklet has been distributed to assist reps and individual members who are faced with the nightmare of trying to understand what their rights are in relation to immigration checks at work. Throughout last year, there was an unprecedented number of phone calls received from members and reps wanting to know what an employer could legitimately ask. It has not been lost on us that since the successful cleaners' strike, employers have made use of such checks to sack effective reps. In this climate, no matter how much we may dislike the law, it is essential we give proper advice to members - this booklet was a start.