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Race Discrimination and the Equality Act 2010: The Bristol bus boycott – Where it all began

Race Discrimination and the Equality Act 2010: The Bristol bus boycott – Where it all began

In today’s society we are well protected against discrimination through our legal system, and in particular the Equality Act 2010. That however is a fairly recent development. Each strand of discrimination law can be traced back to certain origins. When we look at the protections which were brought in for race discrimination it is clear that the Bristol bus boycott of 50 years ago (in 1963) helped in triggering the reform. Up to this point racial prejudice was rife in the UK.

Attitudes to racial prejudice in the law were set to change markedly with the proverbial “winds of change” sweeping through the Empire after World War II. At the end of World War II, as Britain’s colonies won independence, many immigrated to the motherland, and for the first time communities of all colours were seen in London and the industrial cities of the North. There were no Race Relations Act or any other law to prevent discrimination against these new coloured individuals on the grounds of race.

This all came to a head in Bristol. The local bus company had a policy of not employing black people. If a black person was to attend for an interview they would be told that there is no point in the interview going ahead as they “don’t employ black people”. When eighteen year old Guy Bailey was told this when he applied for a job it marked a turning point. A boycott of the bus network was led by members of the black community which was supported by many of their white neighbours. Eventually the manager of the bus company gave in and stated, on 28 August 1968 that there would be ‘complete integration’ on the buses “without regard to race, colour or creed”. Shortly thereafter in 1976 the Race Relations Act was brought into force in the UK.

Now we have clear and precise laws which protect individuals against racial discrimination whether it be in relation to employment, in access to education, public services, private goods and services or premises. We have come a long way since the Bristol bus boycott half a century ago.

Employers need to be careful to ensure that they do not discriminate against employees, or applicants, on the basis of their race. That is whether it is indirect, direct, victimisation or harassment.

Best practice is to ensure that all employer’s have in place equal opportunities policies and practices and that these are implemented throughout the business. That will include training employees on equalities and ensuring that all employees are aware of the policy.

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Legal news, views, trends and tools for HR Professionals. Stay ahead. Go further