A case is currently coming to an Employment Tribunal in Bristol which raises very serious questions about the ethical and management standards, not of some back-street workshop, but of a FTSE-100 company, and which allegedly show a vulnerable ethnic group subject to systematic exploitation over a long period of time.
The claims made still have to be officially proven, but they are made by some 50 claimants all of whom have similar accounts to tell and the evidence to back it up. The company concerned is Carillion (ex-Tarmac, formerly known for their construction work, but now branching into health services), and the claimants are Goan women employed at Swindon hospital.
The allegations are that a senior supervisor ran a system whereby she expected or demanded ‘gifts’ in return for granting the claimants ‘favours’, and that the favours ranged from granting them overtime, allowing them time-off, and above all giving them jobs. The senior supervisor and her colleague only made such demands from Asian employees, not from white employees. It is claimed that the system was known to other white supervisors and that some of them at various times also took part in the system and took gifts.
One claimant has alleged that the supervisor told her that her job would be moved if she didn’t give her something, and the employee gave her a new gold-plated watch costing about £70, but the supervisor complained it was not solid gold, and later demanded a necklace worth £1,700. Another claimant alleged that a supervisor told her that if she gave her a carton of cigarettes, she would give her a permanent contract.
A third claimant alleged that when he said he really wanted a particular job, she told him she wanted a gold chain of a certain length, which had to be visible and not too long or too short. A fourth claimant alleged that when she asked for a job for her sister-in-law, she was told she would need to give £1,000.
After several years under this system during which the allegations of corruption and bribery had been repeatedly brought to the attention of Carillion’s HR department and managers, the claimants finally joined the GMB and with their support issued a collective grievance. Carillion carried out an investigation, interviewing all the claimants who were told that nothing they said would be used against them and that it was entirely confidential.
Nevertheless they each later received a letter saying they would be subject to a disciplinary hearing because they had given gifts in return for benefits. They were found guilty of serious misconduct, but no disciplinary action was taken against them, on grounds (they believed) that the aim was to send a message not in future to bring grievances or take part in union activities.
If these allegations are all true, is this just a one-off rogue supervisor or is this type of abuse more widespread, especially towards vulnerable ethnic minority women? And why was the Carillion investigation such a whitewash, indeed turning the charge against the victims themselves?