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Ethnic minority women twice as likely to work in low-paid, high-risk jobs 'with fewer workers' rights'

Maya Oppenheim
·4-min read
The TUC called for the government to implement concrete measures to address structural racism - warning it is more difficult for employees on insecure, precarious contracts to push for their rights to safe working conditions
The TUC called for the government to implement concrete measures to address structural racism - warning it is more difficult for employees on insecure, precarious contracts to push for their rights to safe working conditions

Black and minority ethnic (BME) women are twice as likely to work in low-paid, high-risk jobs where they have less employment rights than white women, a new study has found.

The research, conducted by the TUC and shared exclusively with The Independent, found around one in eight BME women working in the UK are in these insecure roles, in comparison to one in 16 white women and one in 18 white men.

Researchers warned BME women are at higher risk of being exposed to coronavirus or losing their job during the public health crisis - explaining many of these positions are in critical frontline services such as health and social care.

It comes after a recent study by Manchester University found black people are at almost twice the risk of dying from coronavirus than white people. While a British Medical Journal report discovered pregnant black women were eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 than pregnant white women - with pregnant Asian women being four times more likely.

The TUC called for the government to implement concrete measures to address structural racism - warning it is more difficult for employees on insecure, precarious contracts to push for their rights to safe working conditions.

The precarious nature of these roles make it more difficult for workers to take time off to look after their children if schools or childcare providers close, the union added, while self-isolating and shielding are also harder.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said: “Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity at work and to be paid a fair wage. But coronavirus has exposed huge inequalities in our labour market.

“BME women are far more likely to be stuck in low-paid and high-risk frontline jobs. And all too often they are on contracts with few rights and no sick pay.

“Being trapped in insecure work has exposed BME women to extra risk during this crisis, with many losing their lives. That is not right. Ministers must step up and take bold action to tackle structural racism and sexism in our economy – and in wider society.”

It comes after their research released earlier in the year shed a light on the daily experiences of racism and sexism suffered by black and minority ethnic workers.

Almost half of BME women said they had been singled out for harder or less popular tasks in the workplace, while around one third said they had been unjustly refused a promotion at work. Around a third said they had suffered verbal abuse in the workplace.

Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre, the leading national umbrella organisation for the women’s sector in the UK, raised concerns about the TUC’s most recent findings.

“We are pleased to see TUC are paying attention to the double jeopardy BME women experience as a result of structural racism and sexism,” she told The Independent.

“We are still waiting for our government to publicly acknowledge the devastating impact of ever-growing and entrenched inequality in our country and take some meaningful action which could so swiftly halt the growing unfairness in our society”.

While some 75 per cent of NHS workers are women and nine out of 10 nurses in the UK are female, women are also overrepresented in low-paid precarious sectors such as care, retail and hospitality, where workers are routinely placed on zero-hour contracts.

A recent report found almost half of working-class women had done no hours of work in April during the height of the pandemic compared to just one in five women working in professional or managerial roles.

The research, carried out by the University of Warwick and the University of Nottingham and released earlier in the month, did not look at a break down of ethnicities of women surveyed.

But researchers raised concerns no lessons have been learned from the disproportionate impact the first Covid-19 lockdown had on working-class women.

Professor Clare Lyonette told The Independent: “We have two groups of women in this working-class group. Firstly working-class women who were more likely to be on furlough because they are disproportionately working in sectors which have been locked down.

“Secondly, women in stressful key worker frontline roles where they could be coming into contact with the virus. These are much more risky environments and they are often having to travel to work on public transport. Combine that with homeschooling, a lack of childcare from family and friends and possibly partners also working in key worker roles.

“Working-class women are less likely to work from home than professional, managerial women. Our research found working-class women more likely to be psychologically distressed than others. Working-class women are often in households which are more cramped. It is an accumulative story. It is all the responsibilities they are trying to cope with together.”

Numerous studies have shown women have taken on the burden of childcare responsibilities, household chores and homeschooling during the lockdown — irrespective of whether they are in work or not.

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