Unison along with CBWG have long campaigned to oppose racism in all of its forms. We have been working together to improve real equality in our workplace, challenge discrimination, work to combat institutional and individual racism and to provide solidarity and support for all Black workers and communities in Camden. One way of doing this is the annual celebration of Black History Month (which is becoming Black History Season this year in Camden)
We welcome the decision of Camden Council to have a Black History Season and to pay greater attention to issues of racial inequality. This has been possible because of the work of generations of campaigners in raising awareness of racial injustice – most recently the upsurge of protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in the US. Camden Unison and CBWG have been pressing for the Council to act on equalities issues and to support BHM and it is good that they are committing to do so. Over the years, the Black Workers Group have worked jointly with Camden Unison and Camden Council on a range of initiatives during the Black History month. We welcome the measures being proposed to make the organisation more inclusive and less discriminatory. Despite the disappointments of the past, we have to keep campaigning until we get real change – we owe that to previous anti-racist campaigners and we owe it to future generations.
People from minority ethnic communities are disproportionately impacted by many issues in society including; unemployment, dangerous conditions of front-line work, pay disparities, becoming unemployed during this Covid pandemic, issues of poor housing, problems in the education system, certain health conditions (including Covid-19), negative media portrayals, poor treatment by the police, immigration services, and the criminal justice system but many Black Heroes have contributed so much to society in the past and are still doing so – and they all need to be acknowledged and celebrated for their contributions during the Black History season.
Carter G. Woodson, the individual who created what was originally known as Negro History Week in Washington, D.C., in February 1926. was the second Black American to receive a PhD in history from Harvard—followed by W.E.B. Du Bois a few years later. His vision for Black history as a means of transformation and change is still quite relevant and quite useful. The chains of slavery are gone—but we are all not yet free. The great diversity within the Black community needs the glue of the past to remind us of not just how far we have travelled but, how far there is to go.
Knowing the past opens the door to the future, the continuing importance of Black History Month ensures that we are taking the appropriate steps to safeguard the preservation of Black History.
Woodson believed that his role was to use Black history and culture as a weapon in the struggle for racial uplift. Black history is still a vehicle for change and racial uplift today. Black and White are engaged in Black culture through music and television. It is therefore important to ensure that all communities be exposed to Black history because experiencing Black History Month every year reminds us that history is not dead or distant from our lives.
We should embrace all that makes us stronger and rebuke all that seeks to divide us. Martin Luther King Junior said in the context of many Americans not standing up against discrimination of Black people and their civil rights. “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”
Let us all join in the cultural consciousness raising and mobilisation rolled together that is Black History Month.
The last CBWG online meeting took place on Thursday 24th September @ 3pm, at which Dawn Butler MP, Former Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities was the Special Guest speaker. The theme of the event was “Why and how Black Lives Matter is important to me”. Information on the meeting can be seen on Essentials here:
SOCIAL media has had reports of members and supporters of Britain First, a far right organisation founded by former BNP members, going to a hotel in Camden where homeless people are now being accommodated to keep them safe from coronavirus and try to set them on the road to permanent housing.
They turned up at the hotel with the mistaken belief that it was being used to house asylum seekers.
As a trade union Camden Unison has long campaigned against fascism and racism.
The recent Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted racism in society and we fully support that movement, campaigning for an end to institutional racism as well as challenging racist activities.
Organisations like Britain First try to capitalise on the scapegoating climate created by politicians like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.
These politicians spend their time trying to persuade us to blame Black or Muslim people for the problems in society from unemployment to homelessness rather than blaming them, the real creators of austerity.
Had the hotel housed asylum seekers and refugees, our response would be that they are welcome here.
People do not flee their homes, putting their lives at risk in the hands of traffickers, live in unsanitary conditions in camps or try to cross seas on flimsy boats unless they are desperate and need a chance to start a new life.
Seeking asylum is not illegal. The rich are able to move their millions around the globe so that they can make even more money, often at the expense of those seeking asylum, and live in tax havens to avoid contributing to the National Health Service or our schools.
Yet asylum seekers and refugees when given the opportunity are often the people who keep those valued parts of society afloat – where would our NHS be today without the contribution of migrant workers?
At a time when fascist organisations are trying to grow on the back of both the pandemic and the prospect of one of the deepest recessions in our lifetime, it’s important that we say asylum seekers and refugees are welcome here. Britain First and their like are not.
LIZ WHEATLEY Branch Secretary PHOEBE WATKINS Branch Chair and the following Camden UNISON Branch Officers: KATHY ANIFOWOSE ISRA FEISAL PHIL LEWIS CLAIRE MARRIOTT CLAUDIO MUNZI ADEJARE OYEWOLE HUGO PIERRE VINOTHAN SANGARAPILLAI JACQUI WALLACE
Camden UNISON sending solidarity greetings to Tower Hamlets UNISON on their strike against imposed changes to their contracts. It is particularly galling when the workers – many of them key workers were clapped for their work during the pandemic only to be “rewarded” with a slap of worse contracts and pay cuts
The Black Lives Matter protests that have followed the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police have thrown racism and how we can challenge it into the spotlight. From police brutality, to institutional racism and decolonising society, millions are now fighting for change. In June, Camden UNISON organised an online event, sponsored by a number of other UNISON branches and bodies, on Soul and the Civil Rights Movement. Speakers included UNISON Assistant General Secretary Roger McKenzie and Michael Brown, a Black Lives Matter activist from California, and we discussed the Civil Rights Movement, the music that was part of it, and the similarities and differences with today. If you missed the meeting and would like to to watch it, look for it on YouTube as a Camden Event
London Borough of Camden
The following is Camden Black Workers Group Statement on Black Lives Matter reproduced from the Camden Black Workers Group page of this website.
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 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 so we are holding an online General Meeting on Thursday 25th June at 3pm which will be 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. This will also be 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. You can join it via this link if you are on the Camden IT system: Join Microsoft Teams Meeting
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, HAPPY WINDRUSH DAY, 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.
Recent weeks have shown that racism still runs through society – at the hands of the police, in the workplace, in education – it’s in every part of our lives. We are witnessing a huge movement challenging that, but it’s not the first time this has happened. The civil rights movement that reached its height in the 1960s in the US changed society for Black people and inspired later generations. Alongside the movement in the streets, a ‘soundtrack’ developed – from Sam Cooke to the Staple Singers, music and protest were intertwined.
Camden UNISON has organised this online event where we will be discussing the link between soul music and the civil rights movement with Yuri Prasad, author of A Rebel’s Guide To Martin Luther King, and of course looking at the relevance of this movement for today. Roger McKenzie, UNISON Assistant General Secretary, will introduce the event, and we are excited to be joined by Michael Brown, a Black Lives Matter activist from Long Beach, California. Sponsored by a number of UNISON branches and other bodies, this is part of Camden UNISON’s work to promote Stand Up To Racism and the campaigning they do. Please do put it in your diary and join us for the event.
Camden UNISON has long been actively challenging racism in the workplace and the wider community. We have marched against the far right Nazis like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (better known as ‘Tommy Robinson’), we have marched against police brutality here and around the world.
The murder of George Floyd last week by Minnesota police showed that although much has changed since the civil rights and Black power movements associated with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, there is still a lot to be done. We stand with those protesting to say Black Lives Matter and in opposition to a president who threatens to use military force against them.
Institutional racism is built into every aspect of society and as well as discriminating against people based on the colour of their skin, it also makes racists and racist organisations more confident. We are proud that Camden UNISON has been at the forefront of challenging this. As a trade union we want to see a better, fairer society. That means organising and resisting to end the low pay and poverty that is experienced in particular by our Black members, but also fighting for a world free from the racism and bigotry that can divide us.
On Wed 17 June we are holding an online event, Soul and the Civil Rights Movement and we would urge you to join it. We would also like you to join in with the ‘Take A Knee’ protest this Wednesday, 3 June, on your doorstep (details in the Stand Up To Racism link below).
The Government have put Camden UNISON members in schools at risk by asking schools to open from 1st June. On 28th May they explained that there were probably 4 times as many new cases than the official number of positive tests, the majority of infectious people passed on the disease prior to showing symptoms or were asymptomatic and they were just launching their test, track and trace system which experts believe is fundamental to the wider opening of schools.
Camden UNISON members met to discuss the opening and raised a number of issues. See our Q&A response. This should help you to organise workplace meetings to decide if it’s safe to open your school.
Are You Safe If You’re School Opens to Wider Groups of Children
Is it Safe to Open Schools on 1st June?
On Thursday 28th June the Government confirmed they would reopen schools when the science isn’t there to say it is safe. They admitted the numbers infected each day were 4 times higher than those tested and they only knew who 25% of the newly infected were; that the virus was more infectious before people showed symptoms than after they showed symptoms; and many infectious people showed no symptoms at all.
After our meeting on Thursday 21st UNISON HQ forwarded evidence from the Independent SAGE Committee who produced an interim report on whether it was safe to open schools to a wider group of children.
Their report said that two major factors needed to be in place for it to be safe for schools to open wider for staff, parents and the wider community:
Low COVID-19 infections in the local community
The ability to respond rapidly to any new infections through a ‘test, track and isolate’ strategy.
They conclude that it is not safe because neither are in place. In Camden especially the second point. They further conclude that every two weeks the risk of infection is halved. The Government also announced that ‘Test, Track and Trace’ will begin from 1st June.
I have written to Councillor Mason to ask her to advise schools not to open until 15th June. She has responded to say that she will not and let schools make their individual decisions.
You should now have access to a UNISON letter that allows you to write to the school to say that you do not believe it is safe for schools to open to more children. This letter protects your right o not work if you are in imminent danger.
Is it the Law that schools have to open on June 1st?
No, the Government made clear that if their five tests were met then schools should begin to open from 1st June. They have made clear to all education Trade Unions, including UNISON, that opening from that date is an aspiration and not legally enforceable. School’s do not have to open on that date, in that week or in that month.
Who will carry out the Risk Assessments in my school?
This work will probably be done by the Headteacher in conjunction with SLT and a member of the Governing Body to start off with. However you must be consulted on the Risk Assessment and you are entitled to receive UNISON advice and propose amendments to their plan. It is best if school support staff agree the amendments they want to put as a group.
Can the union request all Heads provide their risk assessments and return plans to their staff
As above, you must be consulted on the draft Risk Assessment and get a final copy. When you receive the final version you should ask UNISON to give you advice on whether it is safe for you to return to school.
If my partner has a health problem, can the school force me to come to work? My son has asthma and I want to keep him home but may have to take unpaid leave to stay home or work part-time?
UNISON has a national agreement that should be reflected in your school’s Risk Assessment. If you live with someone or care for someone who is ‘shielded’ or is vulnerable if they catch COVID-19 then you can only come to work if the school can operate stringent social distancing. If they can’t you should work from home. If that’s not possible you should remain at home.
Your doctor will tell you whether any illness of someone you live with makes them vulnerable or shielded.
The school should assess the risk to you and include travel to work. You must continue to receive full pay. If you have any problems with the school because of this, please contact UNISON.
Can I refuse to work if you don’t feel comfortable with going back to school? I haven’t any underlying health issues
If you feel your Health & Safety is at risk then you can. Please see below what are my health & safety rights?
Can someone refuse to come into work if they are worried about traveling into work?
Travelling to work is part of the risk assessment. You should discuss your arrangements with the school especially if you have to travel by public transport. The Government is recommending that you should not travel by public transport at the moment because it carries an additional risk. If you feel that risk is too high you should let the school know and ask if there are alternatives to travelling into school.
You should have an individual risk assessment for travel if you have to use public transport.
Can office staff continue to work remotely if it is decided schools will open on the 1st June?
The school could allow this to continue. The school is opening for wider groups of children not for it to perform admin functions. If you can work from home and the school can manage a reception service then there is no need for all the office staff to return to work on the school site. You should discuss this but let UNISON know if there are any problems.
I’m worried that if I stay self-isolating and there are job cuts in September it would be used against me
Of course it will be difficult to show the link. However if you are not at work for health & safety reasons then legally they cannot treat you in a detrimental way.
Are there any additional procedures for BME members, who are supposedly 4 times more likely to die if they contract COVID-19?
Yes there are. UNISON has asked schools to include a point in the risk assessment that individual risk assessments are carried out for Black staff and for those from an economically more deprived household. The evidence shows that staff in these categories are more likely to suffer serious illness or death.
The school should make sure they discuss any additional health risks and fully take into account any concerns you have. If you are still not satisfied with these steps you can make a decision on your health & safety.
Should it be a teacher per bubble? Is it ok for TA’s to teach in a bubble?
The Government say that if there aren’t enough teachers for each bubble then you can use support staff. The only support staff that can teacher under guidance from a teacher are HLTAs. If you are asked to teach a bubble without a teacher present you must ask to be paid the HLTA rate. If the school refuses then you are within you’re right to refuse to do this as it is not a reasonable request.
The bubbles are not the same as the critical workers and vulnerable children’s provision provided in schools up to now. Those provision are not full teaching. The bubbles will be.
UNISON has advised all schools that this should be clear in their planning and risk assessments.
Is it mandatory to have 2 staff per “bubble”?
It is not mandatory but it would not be wise to have less than two staff in a bubble. The staff in the bubbles cannot transfer to another group and should be self-contained. If a child needs to go to the toilet or if the member of staff needs a lunch break then another member of staff cannot take over.
Should it be one child per small desk?
The Government does not expect primary school children to stay 2m apart. However the Key Stage 2 classes should be set up so that the children are kept 2m apart. Your school’s Risk Assessment and desk layout in each classroom must space children 2m apart.
It is harder in Key Stage 1 and the Early Years. In these Years it is more important to keep the children in small consistent groups. Staff should be allocated to these groups only and not other tasks.
Will staff be expected to change nursery children’s nappies?
If you are required to provide personal care or work with children where physical intervention is needed e.g. first aid or medication that a child cannot take themselves then the school must provide you with PPE including gloves, fluid resistant face masks and aprons depending on the circumstances.
What are my health & safety rights?
You have the right not to suffer any detriment if you refuse to return to your place of work because you reasonably believe it would put you in serious or imminent danger and take that action to protect yourself or other people from that danger. This is a paraphrase of the legislation and once you have the final risk assessment we will provide you with advice on the danger you or others face and if the school’s place put you in danger.
We have asked UNISON nationally to provide you with legal advice as well.
As this is legal advice, it can only be tested in law and that means potentially an Employment Tribunal.
We are advising you to hold a meeting of members to discuss your school’s final Risk Assessment so that you can all hear the advice and then decide how you act on that advice.
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