Report from the Black Members Conference, by Wilhelmina Lutterodt.
I attended the UNISON National BMC for the first time this year. It was a well attended and organised event
with a variety of sessions to choose from. The topic for Higher Education UNISON Members was on Race
Equality in Higher Education which discussed systemic racism affecting both staff and students. Issues
concerning black and minority ethnic (BME) staff included lack of promotions despite experience
and qualifications and being proportionally hit harder by redundancy than any other staff.
Also, heavy workloads and unequal levels of scrutiny compared with counterparts were more examples of
the particular challenges that BME staff face. The presentation ranged from reporting on Black academics
not being able to progress in their careers to temporary contracts being mostly held by marginalised
groups. The experiences of black students within HE were addressed with examples cited such as the
unequal treatment from some non-BME tutors towards BME students.
It was noted that BME students want an ethnically diverse workforce. There was also concern about the
lack of power and influence in the workplace because of previously mentioned factors. Black academics
found that often their ideas and positive contributions to the sector were not taken on board and that often
they were perceived as “problematic.” This is a pity as there is there is a great deal they have to offer and
the sector would benefit from more contributions and input.
Additionally, there is a disproportionate amount of overqualified clerical and administrative BME staff within
HE which further reflects the problems of recognition and promotion.
As yet, there has been no research conducted on governance, management and leadership that is BME
specific in the HE sector. Much of the information presented came from “The Experience of Black and
Minority Ethnic Staff in HE in England” report by the Equality Challenge Unit (2011) and can be viewed
online for further information. There was also an announcement for the launch on 26 July 2014 of the Black
HE Staff Network to be held at Leeds University which will further support members.
New Cross fire remembered
A minute silence was held on the Saturday for the anniversary of The New Cross Fire, 18 January 1981
where 13 young black people died.
There were some excellent speakers, two of which stood out for me. The first was Junior Smart of the St
Giles Trust which rehabilitates ex-gang members. He described the work carried out as well as the socio-
economic and environmental factors that contribute to the creation of gangs.
He stressed the “highly motivated workforce and ethos” of the charity that provides “real skills, training and
education.” The Trust has an excellent success rate and he has also advised the Government in these
Justice for Sean Rigg
The second speaker was Marcia Rigg, the sister of Sean Rigg who died in police custody in August 2008.
She gave a moving account of her campaign for justice and highlighted inequalities in the mental health
care system with examples of BME populations compared to those held in mental health institutions (for
example, in Sheffield, the BME population is 20% and BME population in mental health institutions in that
city is over 50%). She broke down as the stress of it all took its toll and she received a standing ovation.
Donations to the campaign can by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, addressed the Conference and was warmly received. He
emphasised the need to prepare for the upcoming European Parliament elections in May this year and to
maintain a high profile for UNISON in such austere times. Outsourcing, automation and privatisation all
threaten workers and unions are needed to defend them against these new business practices. He stated
that the Labour Party needs to go back to its origins, roots and purpose in order to enable this.
Many people from all sectors spoke on various motions. This made for some very interesting insights and
was very informative. The working conditions, discrimination and sheer stress that BME UNISON members
are going through is astonishing. And they all do a fantastic job maintaining services in their respective
Motions were voted on to establish issues that require attention and a ballot was held to ascertain which
two motions can be brought forward to the UNISON National Conference. The workshops I attended were
on Hope Not Hate < http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/ > and Police and the Criminal Justice System. These
were opportunities for BME UNISON members to discuss the work they were doing in their communities or
ask the panel about developments. Lively debates ensued that were encouraging and inspiring.
So, the topics dealt with at the Conference were serious, tough and often difficult, but I came away feeling
elated at the solidarity expressed, humbled at the experiences shared and positive about what can be
I went to the Conference with Yola Adeyemi-Laurence , Black Members Officer < http://
www.londonmetunison.org.uk/officers/black-members-officer/> , who had been before and I had the
pleasure of seeing her children perform in the Creche Show… I’d like to say that she explained the way the
Conference worked, how to vote and other procedures really well. Thank You, Yola!