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What Was The Advent of Race Discrimination Law in the UK?

Friday, 8 November 2013

It is just over half a century since racial segregation was deemed illegal in the United States. The relatively recent history of segregation and its effects are not easily forgotten.

Prior to the civil rights movement it was legal for employers to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their ethnicity. There were a number of defining moments that brought about radical social changes in the US such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s pivotal speech on race relations.

Although similar social changes happened in the UK, they were marked with moments that gained less prominence but which were critical nonetheless.

Racial Discrimination in the UK

In the early 20th Century racial discrimination was the norm in the UK and individuals were more often than not turned away from interviews and jobs on the basis of them "being black." This was certainly true in many parts of the UK where it was common to see signs stating: "No Irish, no blacks, no dogs" in relation to employment and housing.

Such racial discrimination was legal in the UK at the time, because there was no legislation protecting individuals from discrimination. There was no Race Relations Act which meant that offending employers could not be prosecuted for racial discrimination in the employment context or other spheres.

The Dawn of Racial Equality Laws in the UK

The Bristol bus Boycott, which recently marked its 50th anniversary, is said to have been a significant contributing factor to the establishment of legally recognised civil rights in the racial context in the UK. The individuals involved in the Boycott maintain that their efforts led to the UK's first anti-discrimination laws on the basis of race.

The Boycott occurred when the State owned Bristol Omnibus Company imposed a "colour ban" in relation to the employment of its drivers. The city of Bristol housed a large Caribbean population and despite this the Company refused to employ non-white drivers.

After the racial discrimination of the Company towards one individual, Mr Bailey, members of the local black community along with their white neighbours led a boycott of the bus network in protest of the discrimination. The campaigners protested on the basis of inequity while advocating integration and racial tolerance.

This boycott was seen as a milestone in achieving racial equality in the workplace in the UK.

Riding the Tide of Racial Equality

While the boycott may have been a milestone in achieving equality in Bristol, there was a tide of change coming across the Atlantic. Prior to the Bristol bus boycott segregation had been deemed unconstitutional in the United States.

This legal change sounded a massive triumph for equality and deemed racial discrimination increasingly unacceptable in civilised society generally.

Equality Legislation

These days, legislation such as the Race Relations Act and the Equality Act ensure there is wide protection for individuals from discrimination in the workplace.

Employers must ensure their HR policies accord with anti-discrimination laws and that employees have proper recourse to a legal solution if they encounter discrimination. If you need advice regarding discrimination in the workplace please contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848 today for more information.

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