Waltham Forest Council employees facing ethnicity pay gap

Nine out of ten black Waltham Forest Council employees do not feel promotions “generally go to the best qualified employees”.

The council is currently grappling with an “ethnicity pay gap” around five times larger than the UK average, caused by non-white staff being under represented in more senior roles.

The average white woman at the council earns £2.78 more an hour than the average woman of colour, while the average gap between white men and men of colour is £1.82 an hour.

The Waltham Forest branch of the Unite union suggests this is because women of colour at the council are more likely to have jobs where promotion “barely exists, if at all”.

Branch secretary Kevin Parslow said: “The call centre is populated by BAME workers who want to help the public but find themselves at the sharp end of client criticism and with no possibility of progression in the service.

“For many of these workers, their biggest rise isn’t through pay progression up the scales – many have been at the top of pay scales for years.”

However, he argued the policies suggested to fix this pay gap, which will be put to the council’s leadership next week, are unlikely to be effective “while wages are still relatively low”.

The report prepared for next week’s cabinet meeting emphasises that the pay gap is not caused by unequal pay for the same jobs but by a concentration of white staff in more well-paid roles.

Staff who have African, Caribbean, Asian or mixed heritage make up half of the council’s entire staff but less than a fifth of its chief officers.

Four fifths of employees of colour who responded to a council survey said they were not “given the same progression opportunities” as their white colleagues.

Furthermore, almost three quarters of staff – both white and non-white – felt “mixing with the right people” was an “unspoken rule for getting ahead”.

In an effort to fix its pay gap, Waltham Forest Council officers have suggested piloting a programme “to develop our future managers”, specifically for staff of colour.

It also aims to increase the “transparency and accessibility” of development opportunities for staff and develop “bystander intervention training” to stop workplace racial discrimination.

* Following publication of this article, deputy leader Cllr Clyde Loakes pointed out that the council’s pay gap, while above the UK average, is lower than the London average of 23.8 per cent.

He said the council had “listened to employees” to develop its strategy to close the gap, such as “through programmes to develop our own senior managers or (changing) the way in which we recruit”.

He added: “Being honest and transparent about our ethnicity pay gap and the lived experience of our diverse workforce is a crucial stage in working towards a truly inclusive culture where everyone can reach their potential.

“Everyone, no matter their background or ethnicity, should be able to fulfil their potential at work. Addressing inequalities, wherever they may exist, is one of our main priorities.”

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter