A statement on Black Lives Matter and structural racism at UCL

16 June 2020

At our Extraordinary General Meeting of the 11 June we read out a statement and held a minute’s silence for George Floyd and all Black people and members of other racialised minorities who have been killed or otherwise harmed by racist institutions.

Here we expand on that statement.

We stand by, and support our Black and other racialised minority members and students at UCL, and show solidarity with current protests around the world against police racism and violence, both individual and institutional. Black Lives Matter - and they must matter concretely, in practice, not just in fine words and symbolism.

At UCL there is very much to do to show that Black staff matter.

  • We note that the most precariously employed staff at UCL are its outsourced cleaning, catering and security staff. These workers are predominantly from Black or other racialised minorities and are UCL’s most exploited and precariously-employed staff group. Our 2019 strike action culminated in a joyous parallel strike action when UCU members struck alongside our colleagues in the IWGB trade union challenging their outsourcing and unequal treatment. But the outsourcing remains.
  • The higher in salary and status one goes up the UCL grades, the fewer members of Black or other racialised minorities that are represented. The latest published analysis shows UCL’s official ethnicity pay gap at 13.3%. Our Four Fights strike action showed that our members are prepared to take action to say they will no longer tolerate this.
  • Most restructuring proposals involve few people, so when it turns out that those facing redundancy tend to be Black, it is explained as a coincidence. For example, none of the teaching staff offered full contracts to replace bogus self-employed contracts in the Anthropology department, are from Black or other racialised minorities, whereas those kept on the “self-employed” precarious contracts are disproportionately from these groups.
  • We note that in some departments all the academic or full-contract academic staff are non-Black or other racialised minority, whilst their only Black or other racialised minority staff are among the Teaching Fellow, PGTAs, or other precariously-contracted workers.
  • UCL's 2020 official gender pay gap and ethnicity pay gap report cites a 13.3% ethnicity pay gap, but asserts that "UCL does not have an Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value" problem. That can only imply one thing: that Black and other racialised minority staff are lower paid because they are on lower grades and their work is treated as of lesser value. There may be several reasons for this. 
    • Among academic-related and professional staff, staff usually have to apply for posts to be promoted; and there is some evidence of indirect discrimination in appointment and promotion. 
    • Among academic staff, the HERA ‘Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value’ scheme is only approximated by the Academic Careers Framework. There is clearly a danger that racism may impart a lower value to the work of Black and other racialised minority scholars, leading to lower promotion rates. Academic networks, being informal, are susceptible to discrimination. 
    • Finally, there are known structural inequalities between lecturers, teaching fellows and research staff in terms of promotion and retention, and recruitment to the three academic tracks shows differentials by gender and race. These have a clear indirect discrimination impact.
  • We know from our individual support of members that Black and other racialised minority staff face higher rates of disciplinary actions and grievances than their contemporaries. Yet when staff raise concerns that their experience may be due in part to discriminatory behaviour they are often accused of defamation. If UCL wants to address these problems they should release equality impact analyses of disciplinary data alongside data on appointments (including application and shortlisting rates) and promotion.

UCL has taken some positive actions to address matters of racism, including (following the inquiry into eugenics at UCL) establishing the Naming and Renaming of Buildings Committee to rename buildings named after eugenicists, the creation of the Equiano Centre (now closed), the creation of a Centre for the Study of Race and Racism, and now the holding of a town hall meeting on 19 June (A conversation about race at UCL: a lived experience) which will be chaired by Dr Victoria Showunmi (UCU NEC).

Discrepancies in Black and other racialised minority staff contract status, numbers, grade, and pay, and the absence of a plan to fix these, show that this university is not free from what the Provost has acknowledged to be structural racism.

Recognising the problems above obliges us to consider what we should do about them.

We call on the Provost and all UCL’s management structures to immediately begin to work with the campus trade unions on a public plan with proper milestones to eliminate the ethnicity pay gaps and the ethnicity contract gaps at UCL. In building an inclusive university environment where no member of staff or student feels diminished, it is important that grievances involving discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity are taken seriously.

We call on our members to support the #BlackLivesMatter protests as far as they can whilst maintaining their personal safety (including social distancing), and to support measures within their departments and units to dismantle systemic blocks to professional and educational achievement by Black and other racialized minority members of UCL.

UCU supports Stand Up To Racism, the Mayor of London, the BMA and other organisations for a full public inquiry into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black people, in the NHS and in wider society. 

Whilst UCL has made some initial steps, there is a long way to go. It is time to address the problems we outline above without delay.

UCL UCU Executive Committee