The last few months have been very difficult for Black staff and Black people all around the world including ourselves. At Camden Black Workers Group like yourselves, we have gone through the motions of anxiety and fear from being four times as likely to die from Covid-19, to disappointment in Government in not taking adequate steps to protect Black communities, to sheer horror and triggered memories and trauma as a result of George Floyd’s murder last year in the USA.
All these events are rooted in the simple fact of systemic racism and injustice which is not only prevalent in America, but also here in the UK and all over the world. Our exec members are not new to this fact hence why we were set up and continue to work with the Chief Executive Jenny Rowlands, and the Leader of the Council, Cllr Georgia Gould to represent the voices of Black staff in the organisation as well as working with UNISON on wider campaigns to change the system for the better. We stand with all the families around the world who have lost loved ones because of a racist system and we say Rest in Power to all the Black lives lost.
Recent events have been hard hitting not only physically in terms of the pressures of having to stay at home and / or work on the frontline, but also mentally with the psychological effects of trauma and this ‘new normal’ that we are all coming to terms with. Firstly we’d like to say Black Lives have ALWAYS Mattered, and our work is to continue to make this true for all. Secondly, we share your frustrations in being exhausted in having to re-educate counterparts at this time and forever being reminded of the racism and injustices we face as a race. We also understand that BAME is not a homogenous group and different ethnic groups face different pressures, and have a diverse range of needs. This is what we will continue to communicate to our leadership and ensure that HR recognises this.
Some of the ways in which we are working to make the organisation a place of inclusion where Black staff are treated fairly is through setting up a Resource Hub for all staff to tap into to learn more about systemic racism, the Black British experience, and how to be better allies and actively Anti-Racist. So please do send in your recommendations for this and anything you’ve come across that would be useful. We want to make sure that we are adequately representing the voice of our Black staff.
An online General Meeting held on Thursday 25th June at 3pm was a safe space for Black staff to tell their stories, express their thoughts, feelings and suggestions on how we can make real change in the organisation and ensure Black staff voices are heard. It was also a chance for you to hear what we have done so far and have a say in what we communicate to the leadership going forward.
We are committed to ensuring the organisation is progressive and Black staff are protected and supported in their work at Camden. We recognise that this is the time to really start changing things and for it not just to be a trending moment but a catalyst for long term and sustainable change so that our children can grow up in a BETTER future.
We encourage you to tap into well-being resources such as the Employee Assistance Programme and Black Minds Matter are also having free mental health sessions. We recognise the importance of staying informed but it is just as important to take care of you and take breaks from negative media and let your manager know if you need time off or someone to speak to.
Lastly, we know that Black people have made significant contributions here in the UK from BEFORE the Windrush Generation and to this present day. Without Black people there would be no workforce! Thank you for being patient with us and we look forward to working with you all to Champion the voices of our Black staff.
Camden Black Worker Group (CBWG) – The Group for all Camden Black and Ethnic Minority staff – Unifying workers across all unions.
Elected Officers and Executive Committee
- Chairperson – Hugo Pierre
- Convenors – ‘Jare Oyewole and Vino Sangarapillai
- Treasurer – Judy Frederick
- Communications Officer – Jahnelle Hutton-Parr
- Executive members –
- Ahmed Mohamed
- Dolly Akin-Agunbiade
- Clive Collin
- Asif Iqbal,
- Muna Matewos
- Patrick Pond
- Jacqui Wallace
Minutes of CBWG Annual General Meeting (AGM) –
held on Tuesday, 23rd November 2021 @ 3pm
The meeting was held in hybrid form, with members attending a physical meeting on the 10th floor of 5PS or logging on via MS Teams. There were about 100 people in total in attendance.
1. Welcome and Introductions
The Chair, Hugo Pierre, welcomed people to the meeting and he and the Co-Convenors introduced themselves.
2. Minutes of 2020 Annual General Meeting
The minutes of the 2020 AGM were agreed.
3. Guest speaker – Jenny Rowlands (Chief Executive)
The Chief Executive of Camden Council, Jenny Rowlands, spoke to the meeting. She highlighted how the complaints from Azeem Rafiq about the way he had been treated at Yorkshire Cricket Club showed that overt racism was still a problem in many institutions.
She said that Camden was committed to being an anti-racist organisation. She said that she could not think of another large organisation that had carried out mandatory anti-racism training in the way that Camden had this year. She noted, though, that there were concerns from BAME staff about recruitment, promotion and recognition. She did feel that progress was being made – and said there were more members of SMT (the senior management team) from Black and other ethnic minority backgrounds.
She also highlighted the Council’s role as a corporate parent for Looked After Children (LAC) and the efforts that were being made to improve corporate parenting for BAME LACs.
4. Race Equality and Inclusion
The meeting heard presentations from Hanad Mohammed, Sandra Soteriou and Jo Brown.
The pandemic had hit BAME people more than the white population, and the presenters mentioned that it had shone a light on social inequalities. The Council had produced a report on “Building Equal Foundations” a year ago and 111 of the 140 actions in it had been carried out. An update report had been produced on “Building Equal Foundations – One Year On” which had identified this and reviewed the work done on equalities over the year that had just passed.
It was noted that it was important that the organisation did not go backwards on some of these issues as people left or restructures took place or workload was reallocated.
Jo Brown said the Council was running an Inclusive Recruitment Volunteer Programme, to enable interview panels to contain a more diverse set of members. About 60 people had signed up for this. She said that, following recent recruitment, about 25% of SMT were from BAME backgrounds.
A Pulse survey would be taking place early next year to find out staff’s views on equalities and if they felt progress had been made over the past year or two.
5. Guest speaker – Sukhdev Reel
Sukhdev Reel spoke about the fight for justice for her son, Ricky Reel, who had been found dead in 1997 following a suspected racial attack. The Police had not taken the matter seriously when the family first reported Ricky missing, and then, when his body was found in a river, tried to argue that it had been an accidental death. Undercover police officers had also been spying on the family and the Ricky Reel justice campaign.
She said that her local MP, John McDonnell, was pressing for the case to be re-opened. The meeting agreed to support her in this endeavour and thanked her for attending the meeting online and sharing her painful experiences.
6. Guest speaker – Liz Wheatley (Camden Unison Branch Secretary)
The Camden Unison Branch Secretary, Liz Wheatley, addressed the meeting. She emphasised how the union and the CBWG were working together to fight for racial equality. She said it had been almost 40 years since the CBWG had been founded in 1982 – and Camden was one of the first boroughs to have a Black workers’ group.
She said that the traffic wardens, who were an overwhelmingly Black group of staff, had been able to secure a good pay offer by negotiation. This was because, in previous pay disputes, they had taken sustained industrial action. The dispute had shown that a group of low-paid, mainly migrant, workers could take on a powerful multinational like NSL. The union was pressing for the traffic wardens to be insourced – as privatisation meant that NSL were profiting from the work of issuing parking tickets and patrolling the roads of the borough.
She also mentioned that Unison members directly employed by the Council would be balloted in December on whether to take industrial action. Since 2010, inflation had risen faster than pay, meaning that staff now faced what were effectively “pay-free Fridays”.
She highlighted the branch’s activity in broader matters of anti-racism beyond the workplace, such as protesting Donald Trump, participating in the Black Lives Matter campaign and in showing solidarity with migrants via groups such as Care for Calais.
7. Black History Month
Hugo Pierre thanked Judy Frederick and others who had worked hard on Black History Month. The event at the Irish Centre in October had been the largest yet.
Judy said that there would be a market stall on 4th December, to give people the opportunity to see the products made by and to purchase from Black-owned businesses. It was noted that Black Pound Day had been launched to raise the profile of and to showcase Black businesses.
The following officers were elected unopposed to the CBWG Executive:
Chairperson – Hugo Pierre
Convenors – ‘Jare Oyewole and Vino Sangarapillai
Treasurer – Judy Frederick
Communications Officer – Jahnelle Hutton-Parr
Executive members –
The meeting closed at 5.05pm