Report highlights ethnicity pay gap at town hall

Waltham Forest Council’s pay gap five times larger than UK average, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

Waltham ForestTown Hall
Waltham Forest Town Hall

Nine out of ten black Waltham Forest Council employees do not feel promotions “generally go to the best qualified employees”.

The council is currently grappling with an “ethnicity pay gap” around five times larger than the UK average, caused by non-white staff being underrepresented in more senior roles.

The average white woman at the council earns £2.78 more an hour than the average woman of colour, while the average gap between white men and men of colour is £1.82 an hour.

The Waltham Forest branch of the Unite union suggests this is because women of colour at the council are more likely to have jobs where promotion “barely exists, if at all”.

Branch secretary Kevin Parslow said: “The call centre is populated by BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] workers who want to help the public but find themselves at the sharp end of client criticism and with no possibility of progression in the service.

“For many of these workers, their biggest rise isn’t through pay progression up the scales – many have been at the top of pay scales for years.”

However, he argued the policies suggested to fix this pay gap, which will be put to the council’s leadership next week, are unlikely to be effective “while wages are still relatively low”.

The report prepared for next week’s cabinet meeting emphasises that the pay gap is not caused by unequal pay for the same jobs but by a concentration of white staff in more well-paid roles. Staff who have African, Caribbean, Asian or mixed heritage make up half of the council’s entire staff but less than a fifth of its chief officers.

Four-fifths of employees of colour who responded to a council survey said they were not “given the same progression opportunities” as their white colleagues.

Furthermore, almost three-quarters of staff – both white and non-white – felt “mixing with the right people” was an “unspoken rule for getting ahead”.

In an effort to fix its pay gap, council officers have suggested piloting a programme “to develop our future managers”, specifically for staff of colour.

It also aims to increase the “transparency and accessibility” of development opportunities for staff and develop “bystander intervention training” to stop workplace racial discrimination.

The measures will be discussed by the council’s leadership at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday 23rd June.

In a statement, deputy council leader Clyde Loakes said: “Waltham Forest Council’s own analysis in our Ethnicity Pay Gap Strategy 2021 has told us that we have an ethnic pay gap of 11.72%, which is below the London average (23.8%) but higher than the UK average (2.3%).

“While staff are paid equally for doing the same work at the council, our analysis shows we must address underrepresentation at senior levels.

“We have listened to employees, encouraging people from diverse and ethnic minority backgrounds to help inform our Ethnicity Pay Gap Strategy, which sets out what we will do to make the council more diverse at senior levels and more inclusive.

“Everyone, no matter their background or ethnicity, should be able to fulfil their potential at work. Addressing inequalities, wherever they may exist, is one of our main priorities.”