Managers fear being accused of racism when dealing with ethnic minority staff at Birmingham City Council, the authority’s head of equalities has claimed.
Dr Mashuq Ally’s comments came as new figures revealed that black council staff were twice as likely to be disciplined than other ethnic groups but white staff were more likely to be sacked.
The Birmingham city council report into workplace diversity showed that of 17,500 staff, seven in ten were women, many of them in part time roles, including catering, cleaning, caring and libraries.
The report also revealed disabled people were three times more likely to raise a grievance but much less likely to be promoted than their non-disabled colleagues.
The council-wide investigation into diversity, compared age, gender, ethnic origin and disability of the workforce to their place within the staff structure.
It found that while the workforce as a whole reflected the ethnic mix of the city, there was much less chance of black or Asian member of staff making it the higher grades like head of department or director. It also found black workers were twice as likely to be disciplined, but that ethnic minority workers as a whole were 18 per cent less likely to be dismissed than white colleagues.
White employees were much more likely to be dismissed for capability reasons, but ethnic minority staff were one-and-a-half times more likely to be made redundant, the report found
Head of equalities Dr Mashuq Ally said that there was a problem managing ethnic minority staff in the public sector, particularly on issues of capability.
He said: “There is an issue, there is a fear factor around the word discrimination. Managers sometimes do not have the skills, the courage or capability to deal with these issues themselves because they are afraid of being are called racist.”
He also warned against taking positive action to create a workforce and tier of management that accurately reflects the age, gender and racial mix of the city. “We must not reflect the wider population at the expense of quality of service we provide. That has happened elsewhere and been a disaster.”
Members of the council’s employment and human resources committee were concerned by the figures, but worried that the information was superficial – for example reporting numbers of disciplinary cases or grievances taken, but not saying how many were successful. They have demanded more detailed analysis for a future meeting.
Coun Sue Anderson (Lib Dem, Sheldon) said: “It could be that a group is twice as likely to be disciplined or three times as likely to raise a grievance because of the job they do, rather than their background.”
She added that dismissal for capability reasons suggested that some people had been promoted beyond their ability and this needed further investigation.
There was also concern that the figures were compared to the 2001 census and not the 2011 one which will show an increase in the black and ethnic minority population in the city.
The council cutbacks which have seen thousands made redundant or contracted out of the organisation over the last three years has meant that few new jobs or vacancies had been created for the city’s young people.
Despite a policy of targeting young unemployment throughout the city it appeared that the council has done little directly to create work for the under 30s. Just nine per cent of the workforce is aged 32 or under.
Instead 55 per cent of council staff are middle-aged – between 40 and 54. The report also showed that 38 per cent of council staff were over 50, compared to just 25 per cent of the city’s working population.
Committee members were worried the council was staring at an demographic time bomb and that in ten to 20 years time there would be too few experienced staff who will have moved through the ranks to cover middle manager positions.
As a short-term cost-free measure, committee chairman Muhammed Afzal said the council was looking at increasing work placement opportunities for students in areas such as environmental health and planning so it could develop skills and experience in preparation for a time when the council started hiring again.
The figures also showed just three per cent of council workers were disabled, compared to 12 per cent of the population, and those staff were far less likely to earn promotion but more likely to raise a grievance or volunteer for redundancy.