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The Executive Mayor had Bromley Town Hall lit up - but he hasn't produced an Equalities Impact Assessment of "Tower Rewards".

Black Lives Matter (but not so much in the Town Hall)

SUPPORTING the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not just a case of saying you support it, or going on a march to show you do, or signing a petition to say that police officers should stop killing black people in the USA (and the UK – but more of that another day).

Supporting “Black Lives Matter” means changing your practice. It always has. Black Lives are not just being snuffed out by police officers (important though that is). Black Lives are also being blighted by racism and discrimination throughout society – including at work. As Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo put it in a post after George Floyd was killed: “[Blackness] should be respected in the workplace and shouldn’t be ignored when it’s crying out in fear of being killed.” The two go together.

Good News
Let’s start with the good news. Tower Hamlets Executive Mayor John Biggs had Bromley Public Hall (a Council building in Bow Road) lit up in purple on 3rd June, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. He said, “ “In Tower Hamlets we have used the message of ‘No Place for Hate’ which simply means not discriminating because of the colour of someone’s skin, where they are from, who they are or who [sic] they love. We show solidarity with those affected by injustice on this basis and reflect on what we can do in our lives to ensure that we are part of that ongoing fight for equality.” That’s a great commitment.

Bad News
Now let’s go on to the bad news. For over a year, the trade unions who represent the public sector workers employed by the Council have been negotiating with the Council management over a new package of pay, terms and conditions which the Council proposed. It’s called “Tower Rewards”. They have failed to reach agreement and the Council intends to sack the entire workforce and re-employ them on the new terms. Staff voted to take strike action, but suspended their action when the Coronavirus Lockdown was announced. The Council postponed the mass sackings shortly afterwards.

During the negotiations, the Town Hall Unison branch asked the Council management to conduct an Equalities Impact Assessment of the new terms.  The union was concerned that all staff below the grade SO2 (which is most of the staff) would get no pay increase under the new scheme but would suffer various financial losses. Staff in those grades are more likely to be black and/or ethnic minorities (BAME) staff – and women too. They include the kind of public sector workers we now refer to as “heroes”. Tower Rewards needed to be assessed, the union argued, to see if it was inherently discriminatory.

Management prevaricated.  They said that these staff were already well paid. The union pointed out that these staff had suffered a 25% cut in their pay over the last ten years, and the new package proposed starting workers at a lower pay point than their grade is currently receiving.

Management handed the unions some information which management said was as much as they needed to know about the equalities impact of the change. Unison’s national HQ says the data is general and no conclusion about equalities can be drawn from it. Unison has also pointed out errors in the information. For example, it says that all staff will receive a pay rise of some sort. Unison denies that this is the case. Unison has asked for a breakdown, by gender and ethnicity, of the staff on each grade – and says that the Council management will not provide it. That information would establish the position clearly. A full Equalities Impact Assessment, available to the public, would also set the record straight. It should be provided as of course – but it hasn’t been.

Who is driving the change?
Although it is officers who have negotiated with the unions, which is right and proper, such a massive change in terms of employment as is being proposed must have been sanctioned by the political leadership of the Council. Tower Hamlets Council has, after all, an Executive Mayor, who is supposed to take the major decisions. Labour Councillors have virtually no power to take decisions – but it is unlikely that the Executive Mayor would go against their wishes. We can only wonder what the Labour Councillors think of the Council’s failure to provide the trade unions and the public with a transparent and public Equality Impact Assessment. Perhaps they would like to tell us.

We come back to the key question: if Black Lives Matter to this Administration, where is the Equalities Impact Assessment of the Council’s proposed new employment practices?

Here’s one final quote. “Racism is built into every level of our society. It’s evident in all of these ways: wealth, employment, education, criminal justice, housing, surveillance, healthcare. Systematic racism is REAL. […] We ALL need to fight to end it.” So which local Labour politician said this, then? Or was it a national Labour Party statement – or a manifesto commitment? It was none of these. The words were written, after the killing of George Floyd, by Leigh-Anne Pinnock of the pop group Little Mix. It’s time our local politicians heeded the views of the younger generation and turned their support for Black Lives Matter into action.

●Read more about it:
John Biggs – he’s not speaking our language
Biggs turns down “free speech on Palestine” petition

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