From education to employment

New TUC report- 2 in 5 BME workers experience racism at work

diverse group of people from behind
  • Ground-breaking new TUC research finds hundreds of thousands of BME workers face racist behaviour – from “banter” and jokes, through to bullying and harassment
  • But 4 in 5 don’t report the racism, for fear of it not being taken seriously or having a negative impact on their work life
  • TUC calls on government to act now and introduce a new duty on employers to stop racism in the workplace

A new report published today (Wednesday) by the TUC reveals two in five (41%) Black and minority ethnic (BME) workers have faced racism at work in the last five years. 

This rises to more than half (52%) of BME workers aged 25 to 34 years old, and nearly 3 in 5 (58%) of those aged between 18 and 24 years old.

The TUC believes that the research – carried out by Number Cruncher Politics for the union body’s Anti-Racism Taskforce – is the UK’s largest ever study into the experiences of BME workers in the labour market.

There are 3.9 million BME employees in the UK, so the TUC is concerned that hundreds of thousands of BME people are at risk of racist treatment and discrimination at work.

Racism at work

The study found that:

  • More than 1 in 4 (27%) BME people told the TUC they experienced racist jokes or “banter” at work in the last five years.
  • More than 1 in 4 (26%) BME workers said that they were made to feel uncomfortable at work due to people using stereotypes or commenting on their appearance.  
  • 1 in 5 (21%) said they had racist remarks directed at them or made in their presence.
  • And 1 in 5 (21%) said they were bullied or harassed at work.

BME workers told the TUC that the most common perpetrator of harassment was one of their colleagues (38%). For 1 in 6 (17%), it was a direct manager or someone else with direct authority. And in 1 in 7 (15%) cases, it was a customer, client or patient.  


The study found that the vast majority of those BME workers subjected to harassment do not tell their employer.

Only 1 in 5 (19%) of those who have experienced harassment told the TUC that they had reported the most recent incident to their employer.

More than 2 in 5 (44%) didn’t report the incident because they didn’t believe it would be taken seriously, and 1 in 4 (25%) told the TUC that they were worried about the impact on their working relationship with colleagues.

Of those who did report an incident, nearly half (48%) were not satisfied with how it was handled. And around 1 in 14 (7%) said reporting the racist incident made their treatment at work worse.

Impact of racism

BME workers told the TUC that racism at work had long-term impacts on them:

  • 1 in 13 (8%) left their job as a result of the racism they experienced.
  • More than 1 in 3 (35%) reported that the most recent incident of racism left them feeling less confident at work. 
  • A similar proportion said it made them feel embarrassed (34%) and had a negative impact on their mental health (31%).  
  • Around 1 in 4 (26%) of those who have experienced harassment said the most recent incident had left them wanting to leave their job, but financial or other factors made it impossible to do so.   

“Hidden” barriers in the workplace

The new report also exposes “hidden” institutional racism for BME workers – like being unfairly disciplined at work or being passed over for promotion. 

Around half (49%) of BME workers told the TUC they had experienced at least one form of discrimination consistent with institutional racism: 

  • 1 in 7 (14%) BME workers reported facing unfair criticism in the last five years. 
  • 1 in 9 (11%) said they were given an unfair performance assessment.  
  • 1 in 13 (8%) told the TUC they were unfairly disciplined at work. 
  • 1 in 14 (7%) said they have been subjected to excessive surveillance or scrutiny.   
  • 1 in 8 (12%) of BME workers said they were denied promotions. 
  • 1 in 8 (12%) of BME workers reported being given harder or less popular work tasks than white colleagues.
  • And around 1 in 11 (9%) told the TUC they had their requests for training and development opportunities turned down. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“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.”

Government action needed

The TUC is calling on the government to work with trade unions and employers to:

  • Ensure that employers have a duty to take action to prevent racism at work. Bosses must ensure that they take measurable steps to prevent situations in which their employees are at risk of encountering racism.  
  • Improve workers’ rights. BME workers are significantly more likely to experience insecure and poor-quality work. Raising the floor of rights for everyone – by, for example, banning zero-hours contracts – will disproportionately benefit BME workers. Reversing outsourcing, introducing fair pay agreements – starting in sectors like social care – and giving workers the right to access their union on-site would also improve rights for all.
  • Ensure that there are swift and effective penalties when workers experience racism. It is vital that any forms of alleged harassment and bullying are dealt with seriously and swiftly.
  • Introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. Business and unions are united in their support for compulsory ethnicity pay gap monitoring. Alongside publishing the raw data, every employer must publish an action plan setting out how they will close their pay gap. 

Case studies

Mary*, south west, Black Caribbean: “I work as a lecturer, and I have experienced racist abuse from members of staff and students. I drive a nice car and one member of staff asked me 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?”. I have been called a N*** on more than one occasion. I have reported these incidents and been told it’s because of the area of the country we live in, which is predominantly white.”

Rose*, London, British-Indian: “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”. I’ve never reported a racist incident because I have always been afraid that I would lose my job. Over the years you just put it to the back of your mind because you just want to get on with work, you just want to have a job to put food on the table and a roof over your head, and if you start creating waves you worry you will end up with nothing.”

Mohammed*, north west, British-Bangladeshi: “I was on the receiving end of systematic racism from group of managers at my job in a supermarket. They made my life difficult by giving me unrealistic tasks without providing any support. They had unrealistic expectations of me compared to my other colleagues and did not appreciate the hard work I did. It went on for a few years and I suffered in silence. There were many times I felt like leaving my job because it was starting to affect me mentally. I had rep training through my union and found the confidence to speak up for myself. I started having one-to-one informal conversations with some of those managers concerned in a polite and professional way. One manager admitted to me that when he was young an Asian boy had taken a football off him and punched him in the face, and since then he had a negative mindset towards all Asian people. I made the managers aware that no one deserves to be treated unfairly because of their background or religious beliefs and they as managers have the responsibility of making sure that the workplace is fair and inclusive for everyone.”

*names have been changed.

Related Articles