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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 June, 2003, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Race inequalities exposed in public sector
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

A black nurse at London's Guy's Hospital
About 40% of doctors, dentists and nurses are from minority groups
Black and ethnic minority workers remain overly-represented in low-paid public sector jobs in London despite the fact that the city's services are heavily dependent on a work force drawn from their communities.

Figures collated by the Mayor of London found that almost 200,000 Londoners from minority communities work in health, local government and other sectors but remain on the lower steps of the career ladder.

According to the report, compiled from various official research projects including the 2001 census, minority workers progress more slowly to higher grades within services such as local authorities or the NHS - and remain concentrated in certain positions.

Race discrimination and race inequality damage lives and mar the positive development of progress of London's black and minority ethnic groups
Ken Livingstone
The report comes a year after the Race Relations (Amendment) Act came fully into force to compel public bodies to eliminate discrimination in the workplace.

Just over a quarter of all public sector workers were from black and minority ethnic groups, a proportion that rose significantly in the health sector.

Approximately 40% of doctors, dentists and nurses were from minority groups, rising to more than half among nursing auxiliaries. In contrast, minorities remain underrepresented in teaching.

Despite stringent anti-discrimination legislation, black and other minority workers earn less, even at graduate level, though the problem was far more pronounced in the private sector.

The report suggested that large numbers of new workers taken on by private contractors, such as cleaning companies working in the public sector, were often on low rates of pay with few benefits such as access to pensions planning or sick pay.

Laurie Heselden of the Trades Union Congress in the South East, said that growing two-tier workforce was a major issue affecting employees from minority communities.

"A lot of black workers within public services are in jobs that have been outsourced to private contractors." said Mr Heselden.

"They are not getting the same rates of pay or conditions as others doing the same job within the public sector. This is an issue of disproportionate importance for these workers."

Mr Heselden said while there remained many instances of blatant discrimination, such as racist abuse, the evidence suggested that a very subtle form of abuse was operating beneath the surface.

This manifested itself in workers from minority communities missing out on promotions, training opportunities or simply the chance to work shifts with better conditions or pay.

"After a while you start to see a pattern and it's quite institutionalised," he said. "It may not be an act that's extremely offensive and in someone's face, but it's just as insidious because it places the worker at a massive disadvantage.

"The Race Relations Amendment Act has started to inform thinking at the top but it's got a big impact to make yet."

Race relations changes

Under the changes to race relations legislation public bodies, including the police, are required to implement anti-racist and equal opportunities measures within their recruitment and workforce and contacts with the public.

The previous legislation, then 25 years old, did not place any obligation on public bodies and was criticised by the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, said he wanted to see the new race relations to start making a difference.

"Race discrimination and race inequality damage lives and mar the positive development of progress of London's black and minority ethnic groups," he said.

"Race discrimination restricts and curtails their energy, creativity and their right to fully participate and develop London's economy and public life."

The report forms part of a one-day conference in London on equality and opportunity for minority communities within public services.

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