BLACK health and social care workers in Scotland are more fearful of 
Covid-19 infection than other workers, less likely to get sick pay, more worried about onward infection to family and more worried about losing their job, according to a survey.

The poll by Unison Scotland has also found black and minority ethnic (BAME) workers north of the Border are having daily contact with higher numbers of patients and other service-users such as care home residents, which, the union warns, could heighten their risk of infection.

“It has been overwhelming and appalling to hear colleagues crying over the phone,” said Rakiya Suleiman, chairwoman of Unison’s Black Members Committee in Scotland.

Peter Hunter, head of organising for Unison Scotland, who compiled the report, said: “People have a visceral fear for their safety. Their commitment to their jobs and their patients overrides their fear but they come to online meetings about this with fear such as I’ve never encountered before.”

The union has put forward more than 15 recommendations to address the problem.

The survey, completed last month, questioned 2,000 workers working predominantly in health and social care settings in the private, public and voluntary sectors. One-tenth were BAME workers.

Some 84 per cent of black workers fear infection at work compared to 77% for the survey as a whole. 

Half of black workers reported being concerned about access to PPE compared to 44% for the whole survey. 

More than one-quarter (27.5%) said they would lose money if they were off sick by having wages stopped or being put on statutory sick pay, compared to 21.2% across the survey. 

Black workers are less likely to get full pay while absent and 9.4% reported losing all pay when on sick leave, compared to 3.3% for all workers.

According to Unison, BAME workers are more likely to be in “lower paid, insecure roles”, more often in the private than the public sector.

Black workers had daily contact with “noticeably higher numbers of service users”. Forty eight per cent reported contact with 10 or more service users daily, compared to 37% of all workers. 

The report said: “This perhaps speaks to the occupational and sectoral segregation of black workers into roles where patient/service user contact is more intense. It is possible that frequency of patient contact is one dimension of the heightened 
risk of infection that black workers appear to face. Particularly when linked to poor infection control and weak safety practice.”

Tina Makedenge, a staff nurse in an elderly care ward in Edinburgh and a Unison representative, talked to her managers when she was worried about PPE at the start of the outbreak, but said: “A lot of people don’t have the courage to speak to their managers. And some members were saying their managers were not sympathetic at all.

“Most black people feel they can’t phone and say they can’t comeinto work. 

She added: “We are worried about the second wave. Risk assessments of black and minority ethnic staff are urgently needed. We have no time to lose.”

Unison Scotland has highlighted the importance of risk assessments and developed a tool its branches can use to do them.

The union’s recommendations include calls for the Scottish Government to commit to “a series of urgent interventions under a rolling Covid-19 Race Equality 
Action Plan”, the directions of which should be mandatory; a sick pay guarantee; the creation of a group of black safety representatives; and an online portal for black workers to report specific concerns. 

Unison says the need for better recording and reporting of black workers’ experience had been “cruelly exposed”.

The Scottish Government welcomed the report.

A spokesman said it would respond in due course, adding: “On May 21 we published interim national guidance on risk assessments for minority ethnic health and social care staff, which is kept under review. 

“We are also engaging with minority ethnic staff to ensure their voices 
are heard.”  

The government is working with employers, trade unions and regulators to develop sectoral guidance: “Our guidance advises a risk based approach which should take into account the impact of individual health circumstances and protected characteristics, including race, as part of the risk assessment process.”