BME progression and the TUC – and our survey said – “not known”…

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Image © Mehmet Karatay

The Middlesex University Study into Irish Teachers is a unique opportunity to gauge the professional progress of a large ethnic minority group in Britain. If the study is to be a success, it must access as many Irish Teachers as possible. In order to reach this cohort it will need the help of the teaching unions, a fact seemingly recognised by Professor Louise Ryan last week. The Irish have been identified as a racial category since the 2001 British Census and trade unions appear to be ideally placed to locate UK Black Minority Ethnic teachers. But how much do UK unions know about their BME membership? In a study conducted by the Labour Research Department last year, twenty-nine unions were surveyed in an effort to map the leadership progress of BME trade union members. The survey, was then written up by the LRD but it`s the data provided without commentary, that offers the most illuminating insight into the relationship between BME membership and UK unions.

The lack of representation of BME members proportionate to actual numbers holding a leadership role is often impossible to ascertain because unions don’t have the data. Where the data does exist, it`s clear the progression rates of BME members moving into leadership roles are very poor. But at least this allows for an analysis which may provide scope for policy change within these very important organisations. The LRD reported their survey accounted for over `90% of the UK trade union membership, including 9 out of the 10 largest Unions`.

Out of the 29 unions listed in the LRD study at least 10 of the unions, when asked, what percentage of its membership was BME reported the figure was `not known`. This lack of data applied to the following unions; GMB, ATL, Equity, POA, MU, Unity, UCAC, NASS, YISA, WGGB – all unable to provide data linked to their BME membership. Furthermore, USDAW, TSSA and the CWU were only able to provide an estimate as to their BME membership, no precise figure apparently available. This is worth contrasting with the BME membership actually recorded as active in the National Executive Committee. The POA, MU, Unity, UCAC and NASS have zero BME members active on their respective NEC`s. It is only fair to point out, that a lack of awareness of the overall percentage of BME members doesn’t equate with zero representation at NEC level. For example the GMB (with no knowledge of its BME membership) records that 11% of those on its NEC originate from its BME membership. This appears to be an impressive figure but it would be better understood if we could compare it to the actual BME membership of the GMB. Likewise, ATL and Equity each have a tiny percentage of BME membership on their respective NEC`s but this intelligence is meaningless when there is no data on the BME membership to compare it with.

This lack of awareness of BME membership is worrying, particularly in light of the Race Relations Act 2000 which `places a duty on all public bodies to be proactive in promoting racial equality`. Clearly, trade unions are not subject to this but one would have thought they might be influenced by the spirit of this legislation.  At the very least unions which fail to collect data of this kind appear to be falling short of a general responsibility. As the LRD points out, `among other things, collecting this information plays an important role in helping unions achieve proportionality in terms of reflecting their BME membership`. It is important to point out that several unions were (in October 2012) reported to be attempting to remedy the situation. For example the LRD reports that the POA is surveying its membership to ascertain data and the NASS is following its AGM recommendations to begin monitoring the ethnicity of its membership. This is commendable but why is this only happening now? Could it be linked to the TUC Equality Audit 2011? Regardless of the motive it at least appears that the unions are moving in the right direction on this issue. For example outside of the lay representation there are some advances been made, in terms of full time trade union officials the LRD survey points out `10 out of the 23 unions (43%) that provided this information reported that at least one of their full time national negotiating official (excluding race equality officers) is a BME official`.

Those unions aware of their BME membership also provide an interesting study. USDAW has a membership of 421,061 and an estimated BME membership of 9/11%. The LRD survey shows it has a 0% BME membership on the NEC. The CWU with a membership of 205,000 has a BME membership of 8% (again, this is an estimate). And it also has a 0% BME membership on its NEC. The RMT membership is 79,093 with a BME membership of 5:7%, with 0% of its BME membership on the NEC. The FBU with 42,599 members and a BME membership of 2.8% equates to 0% of BME members on the NEC. The Accord union has a membership of 26,895 with an 8.2% membership and a 0% of its BME membership on the NEC. TSSA has 23,349 members and estimates its BME membership at 12% the union again records 0% membership on the NEC. And finally, Nautilus with a 16,480 membership provides a partial figure of 1.1% to indicate its BME membership, with 0% of BME members on the NEC. These figures are disappointing but at least we can establish a true picture of BME progression rates to compare with. Those who occupy a position within the NEC play a vital role in shaping policy, paradoxically until BME representation increases at NEC level then perhaps change will be slow in this area.

The LRD survey pointed out also that unions are working hard on this issue for example the `the NASUWT said its measures had helped increase BME membership by over 5,463 since the TUC carried out its Equality Audit in 2011`.  This union’s emphasis again appears to be focussed on increasing membership not on placing BME members within leadership roles. However, `there are also more BME members in all union positions. For example, in 2011, there were BME school reps (Workplace Reps), 32 BME local association (Branch Officers).

Trade Union are clearly attempting to make progress but appear not to be keeping up with a changing workforce where the BME population is increasing and as Wilf Sullivan points out if trade unions are to flourish they need to attract these new workers. He also suggests that trade unions will have more success if they begin to more closely resemble the membership they hope to attract and represent.


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