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50 years of the Race Relations Act

It has now been 50 years since the UK Government introduced the Race Relations Act, which is now enshrined in the Equality Act 2010.

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Made law in a time when prejudice over skin colour was a part of daily life, the Race Relations Act 1965 was the first piece of legislation that addressed racism in UK law. The Act marked the first step in the journey towards a fairer society, making it unlawful to refuse someone a service based on their colour, race, ethnicity or national origin.

Initially considered a weak piece of legislation, the Race Relations Act did not cover shops or private boarding houses. This was amended three years later and was further strengthened by the Race Relations Act 1976 which replaced it. However, recent reports on race discrimination at work reveal that the UK is far from achieving an equal society.

This year’s Business in The Community Race Discrimination Report revealed that 30 per cent of employees either witnessed or experienced racial harassment or bullying over the past year. While progress has clearly been made over the last 50 years, this demonstrates that there is still more work to be done. The report also highlighted the lack of career role models for black employees, with only one in 16 top management positions being held by someone from an ethnic minority.

Last week, Professor Roy Lewis’ report on the Metropolitan Police’s treatment of grievances raised by police officers relating to race (and other forms of) discrimination was published. Following the successful case of Carol Howard, the Tribunal made recommendations to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to hold an independent inquiry into the grievance procedure. Professor Lewis has now made some serious recommendations to overhaul the complaints process as a first step towards creating a fairer work environment for police officers.

The problem of racial discrimination at work is more widespread than just in the police force. Many employers would benefit from reviewing this report in order to determine whether they deal with race (and other) discrimination complaints in an appropriate way. In our experience, many employers do not and as a result fail to deal with such issues at a very basic level. This makes the issue worse and creates further barriers to equality.

Employers need to face up to the diversity blocks within their workplaces. If they are failing at the basic steps, then the more important aims of true diversity cannot be achieved. Race discrimination is managed by employers in terms of being an organisational risk, but in fact diversity is a business winner with tangible returns.

So while we are fifty years on, the fight against race discrimination is one that continues across all sectors.

Kiran Daurka is an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon who specialises in unlawful discrimination at work.

If you experience race discrimination at work call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online.

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