The UK’s labour market is little more than an insecure, racist aberration – not that that’s anything new. However, what is new is that it’s actually getting worse, as two analyses from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found.
Structural racism in the UK labour market
First up, the TUC has found that the number of Black and Brown workers in insecure work more than doubled between 2011 and 2022 – from 360,200 to 836,340. Their chance of being in an insecure job has also increased. One in six Black and Brown workers are now in this position, versus one in eight in 2011.
Overall, the TUC’s research found that the UK’s labour market was structurally racist. It noted that between 2011 and 2022:
- The proportion of Black and Brown people in insecure work increased from 12.2% to 17.8%. This is compared to the proportion of white people barely changing (10.5% to 10.8%).
- Black and Brown men were almost twice as likely as white men to be in insecure work (19.6% versus 11.7%).
- Black and Brown women were “much more likely” than white women to be in insecure work (15.7% versus 9.9%).
- 27% of the increase in Black and Brown employment was in insecure work. For white people, the increase was 16%.
- Black and Brown people made up two thirds of the overall growth in insecure work. This is despite them only making up 14% of the overall workforce.
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said:
too many Black and ethnic minority [BME] workers are trapped in low-paid, insecure jobs with limited rights and protections, and treated like disposable labour.
The massive and disproportionate concentration of BME workers in insecure work – like in the gig economy – is structural racism in action.
Across the labour market, and at every stage, BME workers face discrimination and persistent barriers at work.
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From not getting the job despite being qualified for the role, to being passed over for promotion, to being unfairly disciplined at work.
A ‘nation of insecure jobs’
Then, the TUC also looked at the overall growth in insecure work across the labour market. It concluded that the UK is becoming a “nation of insecure jobs”, with precarious and low-paid work widespread in all regions and nations of the UK. It said in a press release that:
Insecure work is typically low-paid, and those in insecure jobs have fewer rights and protections. This means their hours can be subject to the whims of managers and they can lose work without notice…
There are 3.9 million people in insecure employment – that’s 1 in 9 across the workforce.
London (13.3%) and the South West (12.7%) have the highest proportion of people working in insecure jobs.
The industries with the highest proportion of insecure work are the elementary occupations, caring, and leisure services, and process, plant and machine operatives.
Low-paid work is increasingly insecure work – in 2011, 1 in 8 low paid jobs were insecure, but by the end of 2022, 1 in 5 low paid jobs were insecure.
It’s not just the TUC saying this, either. The latest employment figures backed the organisation’s claims up.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its latest labour market data on Tuesday 15 August . It found that:
Headline indicators for the UK labour market for April to June 2023 show:
▪️ employment was 75.7%
▪️ unemployment was 4.2%
▪️ economic inactivity was 20.9%
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) August 15, 2023
Of course, this isn’t the full story. As the Independent reported, what the ONS actually found was:
- Unemployment was up.
- Real-terms pay (adjusted for Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation) was down 0.6% – despite headline regular pay growth apparently being 7.8%.
- The number of job vacancies has dropped.
- People off work with long-term sickness has reached a record high.
That is, more people are out of work, there’s less jobs to go round, and people who are in work still aren’t earning enough to cover rising prices.
Nowak said of the ONS figures:
The government has nothing to celebrate. They are presiding over the longest pay squeeze in modern history with real wages still worth less than in 2008.
The only group of workers enjoying a serious bump in their pay are high-earners in the City. Household budgets for the vast majority of Britons remain under intense pressure.
Meanwhile Britain’s jobs market is showing real signs of weakening with unemployment on the rise.
The Uberisation of regular work: racial capitalism at its heart
What’s more, the ONS also found that zero-hours employment had also hit a record high. Bosses are now employing 1.2 million people on these dodgy contracts. Nowak said:
This is a badge of shame for the Conservatives. Insecure work has reached epidemic levels under their watch.
Zero-hours contracts should have no place in the modern labour market. They allow workers to be treated like disposable labour.
That’s why we need stronger rights at work to give everybody dignity and respect at work.
Of course, there’s also structural racism at the heart of zero-hours contracts, too. As the Canary previously reported in 2021, Black and Brown women:
are over-represented in this [zero-hours] figure at nearly twice the percentage of white men on such contracts.
So, not only is the world of work looking more and more precarious for poorer people – it is inherently and structurally racist, too. All this used to be referred to as the ‘gig economy‘. However, what we’re seeing is the ‘Uberisation‘ of regular employment too in terms of workers rights, pay, and conditions.
At the heart of this is racial capitalism – where the system exploits Black and Brown people for profit. Our political, economic, and social structures are built on this, off the back of colonialism. As such, in the current climate the situation is unlikely to change – and Black and Brown people will bear the brunt of the effects of collapsing labour markets.
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