Proposed anti-racism measures ‘don’t go far enough’ to tackle issues, warns Leeds councillor

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A proposed new policy to tackle racism within Leeds City Council “doesn’t go far enough”, a Labour councillor has warned.

Sharon Burke said suggested changes to the way racism allegations were handled by the council took “no account” of victims who have suffered from repeated discrimination.

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In future, racism claims within the authority could be referred to disciplinary proceedings straight away, without alleged victims having to raise a grievance with their bosses first, as happens with other issues.

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Leeds city councillor Sharon Burke. Picture: Local Democracy Reporting ServiceLeeds city councillor Sharon Burke. Picture: Local Democracy Reporting Service
Leeds city councillor Sharon Burke. Picture: Local Democracy Reporting Service

It follows a plea by a panel of ethnic minority council staff, who in January said they felt “unheard and misunderstood” and criticised the lack of an “overarching zero tolerance policy” for racism within the authority.

The recommended change is not council policy yet.

But speaking at a scrutiny meeting, Coun Burke said: “What this is doing in a nutshell is saying that any incidents should be dealt with through disciplinary procedures, rather than a grievance.

“But actually you can’t disentangle the two, because grievance is part of disciplinary procedures. It doesn’t go far enough.”

Coun Burke, who represents Leeds’ Middleton Park ward, added that the wording of the proposal could exclude staff who are victims of both racism and other forms of prejudice.

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She said: “Discrimination will span more than one protected characteristic on some occasions.

“There are also incidents of discrimination where people have suffered as a result of a prior case. This takes no account of those instances.

“It places a huge reliance on someone to A, spot it and B, take action.”

Coun Burke said that victims should be encouraged to raise issues informally, as well as formally.

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She suggested that approach would be “endorsed” by ACAS, which handles disputes between employers and staff.

At a scrutiny meeting in January, the council’s BAME staff network said the grievance policy was “not currently working” when it came to tackling racism.

On that occasion, network chair Rebecca Cooke said that for victims, the process was often “literally someone else’s word against their word”.

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She told councillors: “It should never be that I say I am aggrieved because somebody said something derogatory about my race.

“It’s illegal, so the grievance policy doesn’t quite lend itself to being able to investigate appropriately.

“There is no formalised process as to how one would go about investigating acts of racism.”