REPORT OF THE NASUWT BLACK AND MINORITY ETHNIC MEMBERS’ CONSULTATION CONFERENCE HELD ON SATURDAY 11 NOVEMBER 2006 1. The Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Members Consultation Conference is part of NASUWT’s Annual Programme of consultation conferences for under-represented members. This is the fourth one for BME members, and was attended by over 100 delegates. It had the theme ‘NASUWT: Working Against Racism’. WELCOME TO THE DAY 2. Sue Rogers (NASUWT National Treasurer) welcomed delegates saying that she was delighted to see so many members making this the biggest NASUWT BME Consultation Conference so far. Dave Wilkinson (Chair of the Black and Minority Ethnic Members’ Advisory Committee) opened the Conference with an overview of current social and political issues and the implications of the war in Iraq on the lives of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities at home and abroad. Dave also touched upon the recent acquittal of Nick Griffin and Mark Collett on charges of inciting racial hatred, and the rise in Islamophobia. Dave argued that it was for these reasons that it is crucial for BME members to become actively involved in the trade union movement. PAY AND CONDITIONS FOR BLACK AND MINORITY ETHNIC TEACHERS 3. Chris Keates (General Secretary of NASUWT) welcomed delegates to the Conference saying that the Consultation Conferences were a critical part of the Union’s policy development process and that she was pleased that they were proving to be such popular and highly successful events. 4. Chris said that the Union’s focus on organising is driving forward its work to ensure that the Union’s democratic structure is inclusive and representative of the wider membership. A network of over 100 Local Association Equality Officers build on this work at local level by promoting equality and seeking to improve participation and representation from all sections of the membership. NASUWT Training Courses for BME activists have seen increasing attendance and the Union’s Learning Project is providing opportunities for professional development targeted at BME and other underrepresented groups. 5. Chris gave an overview of the pay and conditions issues NASUWT is currently addressing and its impact on BME members, including: the National Agreement and the seven contractual changes introduced between 2003 and 2005; revisions to the pay structure enabling classroom teachers to aspire to higher salaries without having to take on additional responsibilities which often took them away from teaching; revised staffing structures leading to the introduction of the new teaching and learning responsibility payments and the Excellent Teachers Scheme; the introduction of the new teacher professionalism agenda; performance management which will bring clarity and transparency to the process for assessing the overall performance of a teacher and a headteacher; and NASUWT’s continuing work to embed equality issues within all Union and Government education policies. 6. Chris ended by setting out some of the challenges facing the Union, including: moving schools from contract compliance to sustainability including bringing increased downward pressure on working hours and making the aspiration that teachers rarely cover a reality in all schools; supporting members in continuing to raise standards and secure parity in pay and conditions of service; continuing work in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to improve pay and conditions of service; campaigning to protect the interests of overseas trained teachers and progressing work to combat racial harassment in schools and colleges. 7. Chris then took questions from the audience, with delegates raising a wide range of issues including the acute problems faced by overseas trained teachers, issues surrounding racial discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and the difficulties faced by BME teachers in career progression. PANEL DISCUSSION 8. The panel discussion gave participants at the Conference the opportunity to hear from three experts involved in the authorship and research of the TUC and Working Lives Research Institute publication ‘Working Against Racism: The Role of Trade Unions in Britain’. 9. Sukhwant Dhaliwal, Race Research Fellow at the Working Lives Research Institute, gave an introduction to the research that the ‘Working Against Racism’ publication was drawn from. The research had found that Black and Minority Ethnic workers continued to face unequal and discriminatory treatment in the workplace. Very few BME employees were in senior positions. BME workers reported that verbal abuse was a daily occurrence, particularly those who worked in retail. The research also found that while there was a strong commitment to tackling racism by trade unions at national level, the picture was very different at regional level. Black trade unionists reported alienation from trade unions at the local branch level, and felt that the issues of racism and discrimination faced by BME workers were not acknowledged. The recommendations of the report included: greater documentation of the number of Black trade union activists and officials; a clear commitment at all levels of trade unions to tackling racism; the importance of black self-organisation. 10. Roger McKenzie, Regional Secretary of Midlands TUC identified the challenges facing Black and Minority Ethnic people in the workplace, and outlined the possible responses. Roger highlighted the fact that BME workers faced discrimination even before entering the workplace, being three times more likely to be unemployed. Once in the workplace, they often faced discrimination in pay, conditions of service and promotion and progression. He went on to say that when BME workers made positive and constructive attempts to progress within the workplace, they are continually held back and urged to be patient. Black people had already shown a remarkable amount of patience in waiting for things to change. Warning against relying on the law in combating discrimination, Roger said that the question that now presented itself to black workers was what they were going to do about it as individuals and as a group. Pointing to the history of Black people within the trade union movement, Roger argued that collective organisation and collective action was crucial and said that the trade union movement gave Black workers a great vehicle to organise. Whilst Black workers should welcome all colleagues who want to sign up against racism, they should also organise themselves as Black workers, because ‘those who feel it, know it’. Urging Black workers to unite together to ensure that their collective voices were heard, he ended by saying that ‘We are the workers who have a particular experience and it is an experience that deserves to be heard’. 11. Wilf Sullivan, TUC Race Equality Officer, addressed the Conference regarding current trends in public discourse on racism with regard to asylum seekers, migrant workers and the Muslim community, as well as the importance of collective bargaining in delivering equality. Wilf spoke of worrying trends within the public discourse, with asylum seekers effectively turned into second class citizens, and where the need for migrant workers is being acknowledged, but with fewer rights than other workers. Wilf also highlighted the vulnerability of migrant workers to being allowed to stay only as guest workers and then deported following a short time. Trade unions had a crucial role to play in the fight against racism in the workplace. Wilf said that the TUC had developed a charter for trade unions as a tool for driving forward change in the workplace. He emphasised the crucial role played by BME workers in tackling discrimination, as only those who know what it is like to experience discrimination can create the solutions to resolve it. Racism has been seen as an individual problem because there has been a lack of collective bargaining around race issues. It was important for trade unions not to rely on employment tribunals to resolve issues of discrimination, but to make employers understand that if they discriminated against members on the basis of the colour of their skin, then there would be consequences. Wilf ended by saying that if the only ambition the trade union movement had was to win some compensation for someone then we are not doing our job properly. 12. Roger McKenzie, Sukhwant Dhaliwal, Wilf Sullivan and Dave Wilkinson, Chair of the BME Advisory Committee, then took questions from participants on issues of identity, the problems of racist abuse and discrimination faced in the workplace, the isolation frequently felt by those who suffered from discrimination, and how best to organise collectively on issues of racism and discrimination. WORKSHOPS 13. During the afternoon sessions participants at the Consultation Conference attended workshops on: the use of collective bargaining to tackle racism, facilitated by Dave Wilkinson, Chair, BME Members Advisory Committee, and Alan Homes, Vice-Chair; campaigning against the far-right, facilitated by Mike Wongsam of ‘Unite Against Fascism’; promoting greater involvement by BME workers in trade unions, facilitated by members of the NASUWT BME Members’ Advisory Committee. Issues arising from the workshops included: lack of action against the racist abuse and graffiti perpetrated by pupils; institutional racism against Overseas Trained Teachers and the need for this issue to be made a national bargaining priority; need to work on building local community relations in order to combat the rise of the BNP and other far-right groups; Local Associations should affiliate to Unite Against Fascism; importance for more activities and meeting structures for BME members at local and national level; need for BME members to make links with one another so that they could collectively organise; BME members should take up Union roles within their schools and Local Associations; need for Local Associations to take the issue of racism and discrimination more seriously; the need for BME members to be fully represented on the leadership structure; the issue of access for training and CPD for BME teachers.