The Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) has launched a survey with British Bakeries and Northern Foods of workers’ ethnicity and languages. The aim of the study is to produce guidance for migrant workers and for firms keen to boost health and safety and efficiency.

Half of the funding of the one-year diversity survey is £34,000 from the government’s union modernisation fund, which will be match funded by the union. The government scheme will also provide £17,000 of match funding for a second six-month study on the BFAWU’s communication with members.

British Bakeries and Northern Foods have committed themselves to the year-long survey. Draper said he was also talking to the baker and retailer Greggs about pilot projects.

He said the diversity work was not focused only on health and safety issues, despite concern at the BFAWU 2006 annual conference last month about such issues in relation to migrants with poor English. “I would not say it’s led by health and safety,” he said.

He also insisted the current large employment of migrants in the baking sector was not a bad thing. I wouldn’t label it as a problem,” he said. “I think in particular areas there are skills shortages.”

He conceded that the BFAWU needs to understand better what migrant workers and others from ethnic backgrounds wanted from a union in order to avoid a slump in membership. The union had already put a lot of money into promoting trade unionism among ethnic workers, he said.

After the diversity project’s branch surveys of the needs of ethnic workers are completed at the end of next week, the union will use the results to run focus groups mixing different ethnic groups in the companies involved. The final result, said Draper, would be guides for migrants and information on the BFAWU website, including issues such as housing.

He said that although the union had already been running successful English language courses for members, these had been put together “without realising what people really want”.

On completion of the project, the union’s diversity committee will probably apply for further funding under the government’s union modernisation fund to implement ideas that emerge from the initial work, said Draper.