How long have you been a member of your union? As a newly qualified nurse, I never considered joining a union as the environment was new to me and I could never in my wildest dreams have anticipated what happened to me. However, I decided to join 1 month prior to an incident of bullying, harassment and racist behaviour towards me.
Did your rep represent you on an issue pertaining to race discrimination?
No. My new union failed to act on my behalf, informing me that I had not been registered long enough as a member.
What was your experience with your representative?
My experience was very frustrating as the union rep did not get back to me for 2 weeks when I was at my most vulnerable. I qualified as a nurse in February 2020 and unfortunately, I caught Covid-19 a couple months later in April 2020. After a short period of 10 days off work, my matron began bullying me and putting pressure on me to return to work before I was completely recovered. I was traumatised and needed support and advice from an external organisation. I called up the union and opened my heart to them in the hope that they would use discretion, but the union point blank refused. The bullying kept repeating in my head, I could not sleep, eat or relax. My employer allocated me to work with Covid-19 patients despite me being high risk with underlying health conditions. I was not risk assessed and they failed to provide PPE, so in a way my employer caused me to contract Covid-19 and unfortunately, 6 months later I went on to develop Long Covid. The entire experience was traumatic and made me feel suicidal because I could not tolerate the symptoms anymore. Some nights, Covid-19 caused me to struggle with breathing and on occasions I would sleep at night sitting in an upright position due to the fear of dying. Life was becoming unbearable and I felt isolated as I had no one to turn to. In the period that I was forced back to work, if I tried to speak out, my colleagues would ostracise me and send me to work in high risk areas without PPE. It felt deliberate and I was petrified. This played on my mental health, I was afraid to turn to my doctor for help, in fear of the stigma attached and fear that the issues could jeopardise my role as a registered nurse. This was a turbulent time in my life when I most needed a union, but they refused to help me.
"This made me feel worthless and that my story didn’t matter".
I called the union several times and complained to lots of different people about the situation. I even wrote a letter to express my upset at not being represented. After a few weeks, a union rep reached out to me. I was pleased to hear when the rep introduced himself and said they were responding to my letters and phone calls. I had a glimmer of hope and felt that the union may have changed their mind. However, the moment I told the union rep that I was being racially bullied, he told me that although he believes I am being unfairly treated, he does not see any racism and he even questioned me and wanted me to elaborate on why I should bring race into it. He said he couldn't see any issues of race involved as a white man. The union rep went on to reiterate that my membership was not in place for long enough. I was shocked and outraged at this response and as a nurse I would never be able to turn my back on a vulnerable patient. I felt that the union was not interested in my case and tried to downplay my experiences. This made me feel worthless and that my story didn’t matter. The union said I had not been a member for longer than a month, and yet, 4 weeks had passed by. I informed the union that the acts of bullying can never be predicted and surely, they should be considerate of this and use their discretion. It still did not make any difference and they closed the door on me. I felt the union had failed me. I went on to attend a grievance meeting alone with no representation, a very scary scenario with no one to speak on my behalf. I had no trustworthy colleagues. I feel I was played around with and my employer was free to take advantage of my vulnerability.
"The fact that the union failed to take on my case despite me being a new member shows that they do not represent Black Nurses as they should".
I feel that in my situation this union did not recognise racism in the workplace despite me contracting Covid, being the only Black nurse in the department and crying for help. I was alienated and depressed. The fact that the union failed to take on my case despite me being a new member shows that they do not represent Black Nurses as they should. They were happy to allow the bullying and harassment, and racism to still exist by not representing me when I most needed help during the pandemic.
Unions seem very happy to receive membership money but not do their jobs. They even refused to give me a refund of my 2 months contributions and this shows a failure in the system and highlights a disadvantage for Black and Brown nurses. The situation can cause a black nurse to feel despondent, discouraged, and dejected.
This experience is based on true events and the account is kindly submitted by Anonymous.
We encourage black nurses to contact Equality 4 Black Nurses if you receive an allegation from your employer. We will help you to write a factual statement and show you how to demonstrate your nursing competence and skills during responding to the allegations. Oftentimes, emotions are running high and Black nurses might respond in a way that can be used against them unintentionally. As a Black nurse, people often see the worst in us, we sometimes are disbelieved and the system was not made for us. If you have found yourself in this predicament, please try not to worry, get in touch with us via our website or our social media accounts and we will support you.