A 'black pay gap' that leaves Asian and black workers earning up to �7,000 a year less than white people will be revealed this week in a shocking report from a government task force. The new glass ceiling in the workplace will trigger fresh debate about how some employees still pay for the colour of their skin.
The Ethnic Minorities Employment Task Force, which includes five ministers, will call for more research into why black and Asian staff are not climbing the career ladder. It found that ethnic minority employees earn an average of 7 per cent less than white colleagues.
However, the difference is even more stark for some ethnic groups: while taken as a whole ethnic minority workers earn only �18,044 on average compared with �19,552 for a white employee, the average Bangladeshi salary is only �12,220 a year.
'Whatever class you belong to, your race is an obstacle all by itself,' said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality and a member of the task force. 'Race's impact on people's life chances is not reducing with time. Rather the opposite - our colour seems more likely than ever to trap us in the place into which we were born.'
The taskforce's annual report, which will be launched by Work and Pensions Secretary Alan Johnson on Tuesday, poses serious questions for a government planning to focus its election campaign on equality of opportunity.
The figures are based on average wages for each ethnic group, rather than comparing salaries for those in equivalent jobs, which means part of the gap is likely to be rooted in under-achievement at school, leading to low-paid, dead-end jobs.
Indian and Chinese pupils consistently score higher at GCSEs than any other ethnic group, and the average Indian wage is - at �373 a week - almost equivalent to the �376 average white pay packet.
However, Phillips said research showed that African Caribbean and Pakistani men still earned on average up to �6,500 less a year than white men with similar qualifications, creating an 'ethnic pay penalty' based on colour. The gap has persisted despite a slight increase in the number of black and Asian people entering professional and managerial jobs.
Jane Kennedy, the Minister for Work and chairman of the taskforce, said the statistics were 'shocking' adding: 'We now need to forge ahead and, by working together, ensure that nobody is disad vantaged in their career prospects because of their ethnicity.'
While black and Asian staff are still twice as likely to be unemployed as whites, the new debate is around obstacles for those in work.
The taskforce, which has set itself a target that, in 10 years' time, nobody should be disadvantaged at work because of their ethnicity, plans to commission research on pay and progression prospects for ethnic minority staff.
'We are trying to move on from the point of people getting into work,' said a source at the Department for Work and Pensions. 'Where they go in at entry level, it is often a very slow progression and they just get stuck: we are looking at progression up the ladder and breaking through the glass ceiling.'
The argument is similar to that over the pay gap between men and women, with a high-level taskforce set up by the government on women at work already studying the 'glass ceiling' phenomenon that frustrates women's chances of promotion.
The findings come at a sensitive time, with the Prince of Wales embroiled in an embarrassing industrial tribunal brought by a black former member of his office staff, Elaine Day.
A leaked memo sent by the prince - after Day suggested that PAs with degrees should be encouraged to train for more senior posts as private secretaries - complained that she was 'so PC she frightens me rigid' and adding: 'What is it that makes everyone seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?'
Day, who is suing not on race grounds, but for unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination, said she saw that as meaning she had got 'above her station'.
Gaby Hinsliff, chief political correspondent The Observer