Case Study

Kashmir Singh: 50 years in energy and fighting for equality

15 December 2021

In 1971 Kashmir Singh was one of the very first Asian or Black student apprentices to join the UK’s electricity supply industry. Here, he talks about his trailblazing career, his fight for equality and how his father showed him the importance of trade unions.

This September Kashmir Singh was presented with a 50 Years’ Company Long Service Award by none other than Simone Rossi, the chief executive of EDF Energy.

Since he started at Walsall power station in September 1971 as a student apprentice engineer when he was 16, Kashmir’s career has spanned working on, and helping to build, gas and nuclear power stations at Ocker Hill, Hartlepool, Heysham 2, Sizewell B, and Hinkley Point C; he has also replaced the main control room training simulators on 7 of the 8 nuclear power stations in the country.

Through his half century in the industry, Kashmir has steadily progressed through the ranks in roles such as contract manager, project manager, programme manager and being an engineering lead on multi-million-pound, multi-year, multi-country projects and delivering them within budget and programme. Currently, he is the technical lead for main control room training simulators.

However, Kashmir’s professional achievements tell just one part of his story.

It is ironic that EDF is now celebrating his career, when through the years he has been something of a thorn in their side, as he fought relentlessly for greater equality, diversity, inclusion and human rights.

Picture of Kashmir Singh

Kashmir Singh

For example, he has questioned why EDF was not hiring more staff from Asian or Black Ethnic (ABLE) backgrounds, or why more ABLE staff were not being promoted into senior positions, despite the high 25% application rates by ABLE graduates.

On two separate occasions he has faced grievance and disciplinary proceedings for daring to raise these issues. On both occasions, with Prospect’s support, he has been vindicated.

More positively, in 1996 he set up the company’s first network for ethnic minorities and he successfully pushed EDF to put in place its diversity and inclusion programme.

Early days

From starting as a teenage apprentice to influencing EDF at a corporate level is quite a journey. From the beginning and through his career, Kashmir has often been the only ABLE staff member on site.

“As a 16-year-old, I looked up to everybody else because I was the youngest. In those days there was not a general awareness of racial discrimination. People just had to accept whatever was the norm back then,” says Kashmir.

“I remember when I went to Rugeley A power station, one of the fitters turning to me one day and told me that the other workers said that I smelled. I just accepted that they could say that to me.”

Today, he rationalises this ‘acceptance’ of discrimination, because the first immigrant communities, often from poorer backgrounds, were focused on creating better lives for themselves and their children, rather than on challenging racism.

“I know that my father when he started work at the factory, he introduced the Indian workers to the concept of trade unions, which was a first for a lot of them,” recalls Kashmir.

“Having got them to join the GMB they were able to negotiate better terms and conditions. They started to get showering facilities at work and get an increase in their pay.”

Union activism

Kashmir’s father didn’t just introduce trade unions to his Asian colleagues and also in other factories. It also planted a seed in Kashmir.

“My father was of the first generation of Asian people to come to this country. They couldn’t speak much English, they certainly couldn’t read or write, but my father had this idea that trade unions could help,” he says.

“I used to write out the trade union membership cards for him, write the names of the workers and then he would fill in the weekly union subs that they had paid in. I walked with him to the union office to pay in the money.”

As a result, Kashmir has always been in a trade union himself starting with the Electrical Power Engineers’ Association (EPEA), one of Prospect’s predecessor unions.

He was Prospect branch secretary while Sizewell B nuclear power station was being built and has regularly spoken on equality, diversity, and inclusion motions at branch AGMs and Prospect conferences over the years.

The campaigner

Inside and outside of his professional work, Kashmir has been an extraordinary campaigner and worked alongside successive governments to introduce equalities and human rights legislation.

These have been in areas as diverse as media representation; religious freedom in schools and in the workplace; the opening of British Embassy offices in Punjab and Gujarat; the establishment of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, public funding for Sikh schools and persuading central government departments to combat the sexual grooming of young girls in local communities.

It would need a mammoth Wikipedia to do full justice to all Kashmir’s achievements, but two examples serve to illustrate how his approach has helped to get results.

“In the 1980s one of the safety officers was trying to get it written into all the contracts that everyone had to wear hard hats,” he remembers.

“At that time, I was working on the HY2 construction data processing and control system, which is a room full of computer suites. Nothing was going to fall on my head, but they still wanted to force me to wear a hard hat. Then it became a national issue because they realised it was going to affect a lot of other people and businesses, not just me.”

Using research from the Health and Safety Executive, Kashmir was able to show that the risk of a Sikh worker being killed by a head injury was about one in 50 million, which was even less than the one in a million risk of a nuclear power station releasing uncontrolled radioactivity.

As a result, Michael Portillo, the employment minister at the time under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, passed legislation in the Employment Act 1989 so that turban-wearing Sikhs could continue working on construction sites without the need to wear a hard hat.

A further example comes around his work on introducing pay gap reporting for Asian and Black workers.

“We had submitted evidence to Baroness McGregor-Smith’s review on race in the workplace in Aug 2016 that employees were in a weak position to argue for equality and against racism. If you complain you get side-lined by the management and other employees might not help because they don’t want to get in trouble,” says Kashmir.

He argued that large companies should need to publicly report on the ethnic composition of their workforces and how much everyone is paid. As part of his evidence, he even presented Prospect research and agreements from other branches, such as BT’s equal pay review, to drive his point home.

“The next year gender pay gap reporting for women was introduced and we started lobbying for similar regulations to be extended for Asian and Black workers. Labour included it in their 2019 election manifesto and now the government is consulting on it too.”

He adds that businesses might find the extension of the pay gap reporting for Asian and Black workers easier to stomach, now that they’ve had several years of doing the same for women.

While Kashmir is considering retirement in the next few years, he continues to be active with various think-tanks and pressure groups and shows no sign of slowing down.

Trailblazer

So, having built a long and distinguished career, as well as all his campaigning work, what is Kashmir most proud of?

“When I look back on it, I’m quite happy that I built all those power stations from a technical and project management point of view, where I handled projects worth many millions and completed them on time and in budget,” he replies.

“I also managed to help pass various human rights and equalities legislation with successive governments over the years and persuaded the company, at an executive level, to put in place EDI programmes.”

However, Kashmir speaks with great pride about being the first Asian or Black student apprentice to come into the energy industry and being the first Asian or Black professional to get a 50 years’ Service Award.

It has been a trailblazing career that has not just built critical infrastructure projects, but has made his company, and his country, better places too.


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