Last reviewed 15 June 2022

Lower-paid health and social care workers, who played a pivotal front-line role during the Covid-19 pandemic, experienced bullying, racism and harassment at work according to their evidence at a recent inquiry.

Conducted by Britain’s equality regulator, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the inquiry also found that poor data collection by their employers could be masking the extent of discrimination against the workers concerned.

Available here, the inquiry report found that job insecurity in the health and adult social care sectors caused fear of victimisation among low-paid ethnic minority staff, particularly if they were to raise concerns.

The findings highlighted that, in England and Wales, ethnic minority workers were more likely to be employed on zero-hour contracts and that this job insecurity also contributed to the fear of victimisation and loss of employment.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the EHRC, said: “Health and social care staff, particularly those on the frontline, are among the heroes of the Covid pandemic. They faced significant pressure and risk in keeping us safe. Our inquiry found evidence that low-paid ethnic minority staff also faced discrimination and mistreatment in their workplaces.”

The 67-page report, Experiences from Health and Social Care: the Treatment of Lower-paid Ethnic Minority Workers, exposes a lack of data about these workers, she continued, linked to poor levels of responsibility and accountability by the outsourced organisations that employ them.

Recommendations for change

The EHRC has called for:

  • strong leadership in health and social care providers to model behaviours expected of others and make diversity and inclusion a priority

  • health and social care employers to meet the Public Sector Equality Duty in a way that is evidence-based and transparent and reduces racial inequality

  • the implementation of regulatory frameworks in health and social care to address inequality issues and to make workplaces fairer to improve staff welfare

  • improved awareness of and compliance with employment rights, including by bringing forward proposals to introduce a Single Enforcement Body

  • the provision of accessible ways for workers to raise concerns and access redress if they believe they have experienced discrimination

  • the provision of mandatory training for managers on dealing with workforce complaints, including relating to bullying and harassment on the grounds of race.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

Introducing ethnicity reporting can be a useful way of evaluating the number of underrepresented employees and proactively take steps to increase this. However, business should also consider wider approaches to encouraging workplace inclusion.

For example, introducing diversity and unconscious bias training for managers and communicating a clear zero-tolerance approach to any form of bullying, discrimination or harassment related to race and ethnicity.

As the report states, some ethnic minorities were instrumental in keeping people safe throughout the Covid pandemic, so they should be rewarded and celebrated accordingly. Employers must ensure that all staff are given equal recognition and opportunity, regardless of their role or level within an organisation.