Academic journal article National Institute Economic Review

Ethnic Minorities and Equal Treatment: The Impact of Gender, Equal Opportunities Policies and Trade Unions

Academic journal article National Institute Economic Review

Ethnic Minorities and Equal Treatment: The Impact of Gender, Equal Opportunities Policies and Trade Unions

Article excerpt

Mike Noon [*]

Kim Hoque [**]

The article examines whether ethnic minority employees report poorer treatment at work than white employees, and evaluates the impact of three key features -- gender differences, formal equal opportunities policies and trade union recognition. The analysis reveals that ethnic minority men and women receive poorer treatment than their white counterparts. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that ethnic minority women receive poorer treatment than ethnic minority men. Equal opportunities policies are effective in ensuring equal treatment, but the presence of a recognised trade union is not. White men and women in unionised workplaces enjoy better treatment than their white counterparts in non-union workplaces, but the same is not true for ethnic minorities. By contrast, there is very little evidence of unequal treatment in non-union workplaces.


"Talk to black and Asian workers and those who are trying to get work and their catalogue of complaints includes: being bypassed when it comes to promotion; harassment, abuse and bullying at work; being denied training and personal development opportunities; [and] collusion between line managers, supervisors and even sometimes trade union representatives, to hide or even, on occasion, practise discrimination." Those were the words of the former Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, Sir Herman Ouseley, in a speech to the Trade Union Congress in 1999 (TUC, 1999). He was underlining the persistence of unequal treatment at work and was calling for managers and unions to combine in efforts to eradicate racial discrimination. As if to illustrate the veracity of his comments, two key events occurred at Ford UK in the following weeks: the first was the company's acceptance of full liability for the persistent racial harassment over a four-year period of an Asian employee by supervisors and co-workers; the seco nd was a strike at the Dagenham factory in protest against alleged systematic racism, resulting in Ford's president, Jacques Nasser, committing the company to an antiracism action plan.

From events such as these it is possible to build up anecdotal and case evidence that demonstrates the existence of unequal treatment, but there has been, until now, an absence of data that permit generalisations about the extent to which unequal treatment occurs. This gap has been filled by the 1998 Workplace Employment Relations Survey (DTI, 1999) which, unlike its predecessors, incorporates an employee questionnaire. The WERS 98 employee survey is based on responses from over 28,000 employees, drawn from a representative sample of workplaces with ten or more employees across the UK, and has a response rate of 64 per cent. Given that it is possible to identify respondents by ethnic group, the WERS 98 employee survey is therefore in a position to make a unique contribution to the equal opportunities debate, by enabling generalisable results to be obtained in relation to treatment of the UK's ethnic minorities in the workplace.

Past studies of ethnic minorities in the labour market have focused on two main areas. The first concerns labour market outcomes. Jones (1993), for example, reveals the extent to which ethnic minority employees cluster in lower paid, non-managerial jobs. Heath and McMahon (1997) and Modood et a!. (1997) highlight the issue of 'ethnic penalties': the employment that ethnic minorities obtain is of lower quality than the employment obtained by equally qualified whites. The second area of research concerns the processes by which these labour market outcomes emerge. For example, studies focusing on recruitment have exposed the difficulties that ethnic minorities often face in obtaining employment (Brown and Gay, 1985; Jenkins, 1986; Hoque and Noon, 1999; Noon, 1993). Studies evaluating the processes by which ethnic minorities continue to face disadvantage beyond the recruitment stage, once they are in employment, include those by Jenkins and Solomos (1987), Jewson et al. …

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