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'Nice words' not enough to address ethnicity pay gap in big employers, baroness warns

'Nice words' not enough to address ethnicity pay gap in big employers, baroness warns

Published at 3:48pm 25th June 2020. (Updated at 7:08pm 25th June 2020)

Workers from ethnic minorities are not on a level playing field and action is needed rather than "nice words" to tackle pay discrimination, according to the author of a 2017 review into race in the workplace.

Three years ago, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith said larger employers should be forced to publish data on their ethnicity pay gaps, but none of the key recommendations from her report have been implemented.

Baroness McGregor-Smith is a Tory peer, former chief executive of outsourcing group Mitie and president of the British Chambers of Commerce and is urging the government to enforce ethnicity pay gap reporting.

Firms with more than 250 employees have had to publish data on their gender pay gaps since 2018, and it's this system she wants to see replicated.

She told Sky News: "I think when you've run a large business, what you know is that you act on what you can measure.

"It's a really serious situation and we've had years and years and years of talking about it.

"We've already got lots of reports with recommendations that need to be implemented.

"What the government has to do is not take more time, but actually say: 'This hasn't happened on a voluntary basis, we will now mandate and legislate for it.'

"[The government] has the power to do it and it would completely change the lives of so many people if they did that.

"It's not complicated, it's not expensive, it just needs to be done."

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White workers are, on average, paid more than non-white workers: according to the ONS, the pay gap is 3.8%, with workers of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin being paid on average 20% less than white British workers.

But campaigners argue that until individual companies have to publish their data, it is difficult to know how serious the problem is and to effect change.

Many also feel frustrated that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published a consultation into ethnicity pay reporting in 2018, but has not published the results.

A handful of companies do voluntarily publish pay gap data. Sky News has analysed the numbers from the 20 companies that have signed the Business In The Community "Race at Work Charter" and published data for the financial year to April 2019.

Although these companies have publicly committed to change, 19 of the 20 have an ethnicity pay gap and 15 paid their average white worker over 10% more than their average non-white worker.

While these numbers don't represent the whole economy, they do indicate a serious problem.

Dianne Greyson is an HR consultant and runs the #ethnicitypaygap campaign.

She has experienced pay discrimination in the past and now runs her own company with diversity and equality central to the mission.

Through her work she said she often sees companies with ingrained racism and it is likely to exist in almost every UK workplace.

"It could be just microaggressions, but it could be full-on bullying and harassment, stopping people doing their job," she said. "One person told me they were actually physically abused by somebody.

"It's been quoted that there's an ethnicity pay gap of £3.2bn in the UK. That's huge and people have to think about why that is happening and the fact that people aren't being treated appropriately is causing this to happen. It really needs to be addressed and addressed now."

Boris Johnson's government recently announced a new race review in response to the Black Lives Matter campaign. The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities will look at racial as well as other inequalities in society.

In a statement, a BEIS spokesperson said: "Building a fairer economy means ensuring the UK's organisations reflect the nation's diversity - from factory floor to boardroom.

"We are working closely with businesses to consider what steps can be taken to build more inclusive workplaces, including reporting on diversity."

Accurate ethnic pay gap reporting also depends on staff being willing to disclose their ethnicity.

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