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General Secretary statement on anti-racism

15 February 2024

As we look ahead to International Women's Day and the UN Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination next month, it is important to reflect upon what inclusion really means for both individuals and organisations. Can anything really be done to change things?

For UCU, we know that structural inequality is deeply embedded within the world of work and our wider society and, unfortunately, this is true of union workplaces too. Projects such as the TUC anti-racism task force, and UCU's own equality pay gap audit and subsequent Black staff listening circles project have all exposed this at a movement-wide level and have shown it to be true in our own union.

Our listening circles project found that Black staff, and especially Black women staff, too often feel undervalued and discouraged, isolated and unable to approach or challenge their managers. Staff told us that processes for recruitment and progression weren't enabling them to get ahead, and that they felt excluded by a culture where knowledge isn't always shared openly and equally.

It is painful to know that any staff members were having such negative experiences, and we don't shy away from the fact that, like many organisations, UCU has a lot of work to do in our pursuit of equality and inclusion. But our commitment to equality is unwavering and we won't stop until staff and members in every branch, every department, and every team feel that they are treated fairly and equally.

As an employer we are also working hard to address gender and race pay gaps. We are proud to have offered all UCU staff a generous pay offer for 2023/24 which includes an 8.5% in-year increase in salaries and additional one-off payments targeted towards the lowest paid.

We have already updated our recruitment procedures to include briefings for applicants from underrepresented groups. We want to ensure that from the moment someone from an underrepresented group decides to apply for a role at UCU, they feel supported and encouraged to progress and succeed, no matter their gender, background, or circumstance.

When it comes to supporting existing staff, we have also begun updating our approaches to progression and development reviews to ensure that all staff feel more supported and that there is greater focus upon on training needs. We will also be providing anti-racism training for all staff with specific training on inclusive practice for all managers at every level.

Looking to the future, we have also committed to an ambitious action plan which includes the development of a programme to better support Black staff with progression and development, as well as new safe reporting mechanisms and wellbeing support for staff working on activities that can be upsetting or triggering. These activities will be underpinned by a dedicated steering group including staff from underrepresented groups to help drive forward the work that is needed.

As a trade union, we stand against racism, and we will continue to challenge it in all its forms. For our members, we will be bolstering our existing work with new initiatives to survey members on their experiences and collect data on race discrimination cases across our nations and regions, using this information to inform best practice. Our next week of action on workplace racism will take place from 18th - 22nd March and will be a focal point for getting members and branches engaged in anti-racist activity.

We know things cannot change overnight but we are willing to do what it takes and that includes having difficult conversations, acknowledging where we fall short and being honest about the action we are taking. It is important that our level of ambition to changing members' working conditions is matched by a commitment to make change for our staff. As challenging as this may be, we cannot begin to improve without it.

In solidarity.

Last updated: 15 February 2024