Minorities working in the UK
The proposal aims to tackle the persistent wage gaps faced by individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Wikimedia Commons

For the first time, under progressivist plans for a draft race equality act, the Labour Party has unveiled plans to extend equal pay rights to black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) staff across the United Kingdom.

The proposal aims to tackle the persistent wage gaps faced by individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds, marking a significant step towards a fairer and more inclusive workforce.

Following consultations with business groups and unions, the proposed legal right would be introduced gradually, affording employers the necessary time to adjust their practices and ensure equitable pay for all their employees.

Back pay would only be applicable from the point when the legal modification takes effect.

The proposed change, which includes disabled individuals, aims to treat equal pay claims based on ethnicity and disability similar to those now granted by women, who currently receive stronger protections under the law.

If Labour wins the general election, the party intends to appoint a Windrush commissioner to supervise the compensation scheme.

The watchdog will have the authority to investigate complaints, conduct audits, and impose penalties on companies found in violation of the equal pay regulations.

This move is designed to ensure that the proposed legislation is not merely symbolic but is effectively enforced, creating a tangible impact on workplace equality.

Keir Starmer initially pledged a race equality act in 2020 and established a task force chaired by Doreen Lawrence. However, the party's lack of specific details raised concerns about its dedication to addressing structural racism.

Shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds said: "It has never been more important to deliver race equality. Inequality has soared under the Tories and too many black, Asian and ethnic minority families are working harder and harder for less and less. This is holding back their families and holding back the economy.

"We are proud of our achievements in government, from the landmark Equality Act [in 2010] to strengthening protections against discrimination. The next Labour government will go further to ensure no matter where you live in the UK, and whatever your background, you can thrive."

The proposed legislation would additionally mandate public services, encompassing the NHS, police, schools, and councils, to gather and report data on staffing, pay, and, where applicable, outcomes based on ethnicity.

The forthcoming act would cover previously disclosed measures, such as compulsory reporting of ethnicity pay gaps, mandatory anti-racism training for police officers and staff, and a comprehensive review of the school curriculum to ensure diversity.

Labour has also outlined its intention to broaden access to mental health support, establish a new target to narrow maternal health disparities affecting black and Asian women and update clinical training to better cater to the diverse patient population.

Party insiders assert that the proposed act aligns with Labour's central objective of fostering economic growth through improved employment opportunities and increased job security for BAME individuals.

They estimate the potential economic impact to exceed £26 billion annually through augmented salaries.

Dr Shabna Begum, interim chief executive of the race equality thinktank, the Runnymede Trust, commented on Labour's race equality act, stating: "Labour's race equality act marks a crucial departure from the regressive and harmful policies witnessed under successive governments. We appreciate many of the commitments, including those addressing workplace discrimination and the lack of representation in school curricula."

However, Dr Begum noted that the plans fail to adequately address the profound inequalities influencing the experiences and opportunities of people of colour.

She emphasised that tackling structural racial inequality requires an understanding that racism is ingrained in the system itself, not just when it fails.

Dr Begum called on Labour to use the Race Equality Act as a foundation for a comprehensive, cross-governmental approach supported by sustained investment to address unacceptable disparities in health, housing, wealth, and policing faced by many communities of colour.

As the political debate on this matter intensifies, the spotlight remains on the government and other political parties to outline their stance on equal pay and contribute to shaping a more equitable future for all workers in the UK.