TSSA's BAME Conference 2021 hosted speakers from across our industries and the trade union movement, providing information and discussion on practical workplace measure for tackling discrimination, the importance of training and awareness, the threat of the far right and lessons from the death of Belly Mujinga.
TSSA Assistant General Secretary Frank Ward opened the conference with a reflection on TSSA’s mission, saying:
"To pursue our mission, we must reflect our membership and we must be a true reflection of those working in the transport and travel industries. We are focused on building a culture of diversity, inclusion and the sharing of ideas."
Roger Carrington, TSSA activist, introduced our BAME self-organised group, Emix, saying:
"Emix exists to influence TSSA policy from a BAME perspective. We aim to shape policy through discussion and lobbying."
Roger also paid tribute to the "inspirational" Claude James, the first black member of TSSA'S Executive Committee (EC), who was elected in 1982, and who passed away earlier this year.
Lily Kitchen from Network Rail gave a presentation on their "Race Matters" Project, which included a range of data, training and mentoring programmes. She was joined by Sharon Salmon who outlined Network Rail's staff group "Cultural Fusion" and the work and support it gives to NR employees. A lively Q&A followed with both women taking suggestions away from the debate.
Guest Speaker Wilf Sullivan, TUC Race Equality Officer
Wilf led a session on "the threat of the far right and how this can impact you within your workforce". As he said:
"The far right isn’t just about racism, it’s a set of authoritarian politics which has no time for workers. He referenced the events on Washington’s Capitol Hill back in January as an example of the rise of the far right being an international problem.
"Tackling the far right isn’t just about tackling the Tommy Robinsons of this world, it is also about building workplace unity, having conversations,” said Wilf. The TUC has developed a course called ‘Winning Workplace Unity’ with online sessions on how to challenge views like ‘there are too many migrants here’ which has been effective.
Wilf described the increasing divisions within society, saying "that’s not surprising – we have an increasingly authoritarian government, and messages in the media which seek to divide us, and police crackdowns – not just the vigil for Sarah Everard. There are ways to facilitate protests safely in a pandemic."
Ethnic Pay Gap reporting
Wilf reminded delegates that if ethnic pay gap reporting is being done there should also be a statutory requirement on companies who identify a gap to have a plan to do something about it. Outsourcing and subcontracting shouldn’t be used as a means of exacerbating the ethnic pay gap. Reps can remind employers that our workplaces include people who are employed by other companies. If the company is serious about tackling discrimination, they have to make sure their subcontractors do so as well.
On the issue of targets, Wilf put the focus on results:
"It's all very well having targets, but you’ve got to reach them. If you're not meeting them, what are you doing to meet them? How can we change things to make sure those targets are reached?"
"Woke" and the Cancel Culture Rage
Wilf warned there’s a bigger game at play than simply attacking what’s described as ‘the Liberal elite’.
"Behind that is an attack on any kind of progressive politics for working people," he said.
"The far right won’t just say 'working people should have no rights and just do as they’re told', they'll disguise their attacks in language like 'it’s just being politically correct'. Calling something 'the woke agenda' is a distraction from the real agenda and it’s very dangerous."
Wilf explained that the far right often disguise their attacks as 'Freedom of Speech'.
"Freedom of Speech is all very well, but for our communities it results in people being attacked on the streets, you can track it," cautioned Wilf.
Lessons learned from Belly Mujinga
Assistant General Secretary Frank Ward reflected on TSSA member Belly Mujinga who sadly died from coronavirus a year ago. Her death followed reports that she’d been spat upon.
“After TSSA alerted the media to her death there were demonstrations across the country and her death was top of the news for a number of days” he said.
The British Transport Police (BTP) opened an investigation in May – almost two months after the incident at Victoria station where Belly worked. Frank continued:
“No-one has ever properly explained why that didn’t happen sooner, but the decision by BTP to open an investigation was partly in response to TSSA action.”
What did TSSA do?
- Raised concerns with Office of Rail and Road and with Belly’s employer, GTR.
- The rail industry was opposed to issuing PPE – even sometimes refusing to issue what PPE they already had. We used media pressure to change that position.
- TSSA pushed a hard line on the need for face visors, which was resisted across Train Operating Companies (TOCs) including GTR but eventually led to their rollout across all TOCs.
- Pushed Belly’s petition which called for PPE and compensation which quickly gained over two million signatures.
- Worked with MPs such as Sam Tarry and Dawn Butler which led to a signed letter from MPs presented to the House of Commons and questions raised in the House.
- Most recently we have written to the Prime Minister and to the Coroner asking for an independent inquiry into Belly’s death which we believe would give her family a chance to ask questions, get answers and would help the rail industry avoid future deaths.
Lessons learned from Belly’s death
- There needs to be a responsibility on employers to actively engage in discussing health with employees as part of process to manage risk. Putting the onus on the employee must stop.
- The amount of health and wellbeing information held by employers is insufficient. It was four days after the incident at Victoria before the employer agreed to self-isolate Belly and by then it was too late.
- The TOCs dealt with PPE by relying on government guidance with the arguments it didn't go far enough falling on deaf ears. TOCs need to treat government guidance as a minimum standard, not all that's needed.
- Terminology isn't fit for purpose. Government and TOC language around Covid-19 was ambiguous and allowed TOCs to misuse it to prevent people from staying safe. Too many arguments over the meaning of terms like "Covid-safe" and "Covid-secure" put people at risk.
- There needs to be a public inquiry into government handling of the pandemic. One action to take on board would be to require the joint Health and Safety committees of all employers to investigate their handling of pandemic, make recommendations and implement them.
- There have been disproportionate fatalities from BAME communities. Long-term ethnic inequalities have disproportionately exposed members of BAME communities to the risks of Covid-19 and to the risk of loss of income caused by the pandemic. Those need fixed.
Nadine Rae, TSSA Organising Director, introduced our new Aspire Campaign
"Our Aspire campaign will highlight the contribution of our members in their workplaces, their aspirations for learning and career progression, their desire to accomplish meaningful goals in their professional lives."
"We will use the positive messaging & visibility of our Aspire campaign to spark conversations on how in realising our aspirations we will make a positive contribution to our industries. We will raise questions about our challenges and how to overcome them."
Download TSSA Policy Officer Rob Jenks’ presentation about health and safety guidance, Covid principles and protections for BAME workers negotiated by TSSA in industry talks.
The conference was hosted by TSSA BAME lead organiser Ricky Jones. For more information on TSSA’s work in this area, please contact Ricky or see our group pages: