Hundreds of thousands of BME workers quit jobs due to racist ‘banter’

Black woman looking out of an office window, with a laptop in front of her, Racism report


More than 120,000 UK workers from minority backgrounds have quit their jobs because of racism in the last five years, according to research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

More than one in four (27%) BME people told the TUC they experienced racist jokes or “banter” at work in the last five years.

The research – carried out by Number Cruncher Politics for the union body’s Anti-Racism Taskforce – is believed to be the UK’s largest study into the experiences of the 3.9 million BME workers in the labour market. 

8% left their jobs as a result of the racism they had experienced, the study revealed. More than one in three (35%) said that the most recent incident of racism left them feeling less confident at work.  

One black Caribbean lecturer in the southwest of England told the TUC researchers that because she drives a nice car she has been asked by members of staff “if I was a drug dealer, because how else could I afford to drive the car I drive?”

“I have been asked on numerous occasions if people can touch my hair. I have been sunburnt, and somebody has said to me: “how on earth can you be sunburnt when you’re Black already?,” she added.

A British Indian woman from London shared her story with the TUC researchers. In her case study she said: “When I first started working, I couldn’t take my food into work because colleagues would tell me it smelled, so I had to start taking cheese and tomato sandwiches to work. I remember going to a job interview and not getting the job, and later being told the company didn’t want front facing staff wearing ‘funny clothes’”.

Workers aged 18 to 24 were more likely to say they had experienced racism than older workers. Only 19% of those who had experienced harassment had reported it to their employer – almost half of those surveyed feared their complaint would not be taken seriously.

Lifting the lid on racism in UK workplaces

Commenting on the report TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, said in a statement: “This report lifts the lid on racism in UK workplaces. It shines a light on the enormous scale of structural and institutional discrimination BME workers face. Many told us they experienced racist bullying, harassment – and worse. And alarmingly, the vast majority did not report this to their employer. Others said ‘hidden’ institutional racism affected their day-to-day working life, from not getting training and promotion opportunities, to being given less popular shifts and holidays.”

“It’s disgraceful that in 2022 racism still determines who gets hired, trained, promoted – and who gets demoted and dismissed. This report must be a wake-up call. Ministers need to change the law so that employers are responsible for protecting their workers and preventing racism at work. And employers must be clear they have a zero-tolerance policy towards racism – and that they will support all staff who raise concerns about racism or who are subjected to racial abuse.” 

NASUWT General Secretary and chair of the TUC’s anti-racism taskforce Patrick Roach, said: “Racial injustice at work is damaging lives and holding back the economic recovery the UK desperately needs. This report delivers further damning evidence of a labour market that is unequal, unfair and highly discriminatory. 

“Despite 50 years of legislation to outlaw race discrimination at work, the situation facing Black workers today appears to be going from bad to worse. We want to see urgent action from the government to create a level playing field for all workers, backed up with stronger workplace rights and robust enforcement measures. And a positive statutory duty on all employers to identify and root out racial disparities at work,” he added.


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