Trade union leaders have urged Boris Johnson to reject the “insulting” race report published by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.
In a letter, 33 trade union general secretaries – representing more than five million workers – called on the government to “pick a different path”, suggesting that “there is no conflict between defending working-class interests and pushing for equality for black and minority ethnic workers. Today’s working class is multi-ethnic and multi-faith.”
The controversial report, commissioned by Downing Street and helmed by Tony Sewell, has drawn widespread criticism since its publication last month, with experts accusing it of downplaying the extent of structural racism in the UK and Labour accusing ministers of using it to sow division.
In an open letter, unions told the prime minister that they did “not consider that the report’s recommendations would make a meaningful positive difference to the working lives and careers of BME workers” – and urged ministers to instead act on the findings of earlier reports.
The letter stated: “We hoped that the report would recommend action to stamp out insecure work and make employers act to close their ethnicity pay gaps.” It pointed out that, in London, the disparity in pay between white workers and ethnic minority workers is 24 per cent.
“Instead, the commission has chosen to deny the experiences of BME workers and be complacent about the UK’s progress towards being an antiracist society. The UK’s trade union movement repudiates this report.”
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “No matter what your race, ethnicity or background, we all deserve fair treatment for the effort we put in at work. And we all deserve decent pay, a chance to get on in life, and dignity in how we are treated.
“But black and minority ethnic workers are still paid less than white workers, on average. Too many of these workers are concentrated in low-paid, insecure work.
“The commission denied the experience of black and minority ethnic workers. The prime minister must not make the same mistake. The government must reject this divisive report.”
Labour’s shadow business secretary, Marsha de Cordova, told the Observer that she is seeking more urgent debate in the Commons.
“This report has unravelled. It is clear it has neither credibility nor coherence,” she said. “Academics, historians, medical professionals and civil society organisations have all agreed the commission cherry-picked and misrepresented evidence to reflect a preordained ideological point.
“If it is true that No 10 intervened in the writing of the report, there are serious questions to be asked about its independence.”
Downing Street has been accused of rewriting much the report. Significant sections of the report published on 31 March – which have been criticised by health professionals, academics and experts – were not written by the 12 commissioners appointed by Boris Johnson last July, the Observer reported.
The 258-page report was not made available to be read in full or signed off by the panel, which included scientist and BBC broadcaster Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Samir Shah, ex-chair of the Runnymede Trust – nor were they made aware of its final recommendations. Instead, it is alleged, the final report was produced by No 10.