The Connection between Fair Work and Black History Month – Satnam Ner

In this short blog I hope, in a small but perhaps obvious way, to touch on the connection between Fair Work and Black History Month. Both are about rebalancing. To varying degrees, the Fair Work dimensions of Effective Voice, Opportunity, Security, Fulfilment and Respect also play a central role in the meeting the underlying objectives of Black History Month.

Satnam Ner – Fair Work Convention member

I believe that our work at the Fair Work Convention would be much easier if the value, the contribution, the needs and wellbeing of workers were all properly integrated into the employment model, so that everyone was freely able to make full and willing contributions towards shared goals.

Likewise, if the perspectives of history as it has been recorded and taught, recognised the value, the contribution and the roles of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in society and properly reflected them, then we wouldn’t need #BHM because the true extent of black history would be already there, in every month of every year.

As an anti-racism activist I have, for some decades, organised Black Workers as part of my trade union work. Whether my colleagues share their experiences anecdotally, in confidence or in more formal settings, their stories all have the same theme. Unsurprisingly I can reveal that there is a clear link between the absence of recognition of historical and modern contributions of BAME individuals and the systematic disadvantage that BAME workers experience. Much of this has its origins in a lack of effective voice.

Albeit there have been some recent but marginal changes to the school curriculum, let’s take the education of school children as just one example. Based on what most of us were taught about global history at school, we would never have believed that Black people were the global majority. This is a manifest of history being gathered and written and published largely from a white colonial perspective. The achievements of BAME people have hitherto been taught only at the margins. Even Jesus was portrayed not as a brown man, but as a white man with blonde hair and blue eyes. I’ll just let the absurdity of that notion sink in and say no more.

The same systematic biases that have excluded black history pervade in the employment arena. I’ll not regurgitate the outcomes of countless published studies, save for pointing out that year upon year they demonstrate that BAME workers experience disadvantage in recruitment, progression, retention and everything in between.

Fair work requires that wherever employers are on the continuum of their Fair Work journey, they draw in input through employee voice. They use this and the other dimensions of Fair Work to interrogate their work practices to redress all of the disadvantage faced by their workers, including those that have protected characteristics based on their race, religion or belief. So where the workplaces have little or no BAME presence, employers should seek to understand why that is the case. They should question why they would not want to bring in and harness the talents and diverse contributions of a significant proportion of the population of Scotland.

As Black History Month 2021 draws to a close I will conclude with a reminder of the universal nature of the Fair Work dimensions, the ownership and responsibility that it puts on all stakeholders – the Scottish Government, employers and trade unions. All of these are key to making work fairer and achieving the equality of work outcomes that is critical for any workplace to be inclusive and to flourish without leaving anyone behind. Without these outcomes how will Scotland ever achieve its stated ambition to be a Fair Work Nation by 2025 where people in Scotland will have a world leading working life, where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses and society?