Scotland’s largest trade union organisation has been accused of racially discriminating against an employee of Asian origin and threatening him with redundancy if he took his complaints to a tribunal.
A Glasgow employment tribunal heard that Zaffir Hakim worked for the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) on its One Workplace Equal Rights (OWER) project – a scheme specifically set up to tackle racism and discrimination in the workplace. He raised a racial discrimination case against his employers in 2014, where he claimed he received less favourable treatment because of his race.
The tribunal heard that Hakim dropped these allegations because the STUC threatened to stop applying for funding for the project while the case was ongoing, meaning he would lose his job. A letter from STUC lawyers said his bosses were "not inclined to seek permission or to apply for any further funding for the One Workplace project while this litigation is ongoing".
It also stated that the STUC was not prepared to "prolong unfruitful negotiations any longer" and that, if he dropped the claim by a certain date, he would avoid legal expenses.
Funding for the scheme was later refused by the Scottish government and Hakim was made redundant. But because a white colleague, in a similar role, kept his job and continued to work within OWER, Hakim raised another racial discrimination claim. He said he was victimised because of the previous action.
Hakim went to tribunal to argue that the STUC’s legal letter should be admissible in his case. His employer had claimed it was invalid as it was marked ‘without prejudice’ – an argument the tribunal this week rejected.
Employment judge Ian McFatridge ruled that the letter contained threats to Hakim's job, which were "unambiguously wrong”.
"In my view, Mr Hakim is correct in stating that what this amounted to was the STUC saying that if he did not drop his claim then they would artificially manufacture a redundancy situation so as to end his employment,” he said.
"I note the STUC's position in its submissions is that the wording used suggests a statement rather than a threat. I do not consider this to be accurate. While it takes the form of a statement, the threat is quite clear.”
During cross-examination, it also emerged that the STUC's equal opportunities policy did not contain up-to-date legislation, including no mention of the Equality Act 2010. The union’s general secretary, Grahame Smith, admitted this was "embarrassing". He said the policy had been looked at and updated in the last 18 months, but it had "not been updated to include new legislation" and this was "unacceptable".
The tribunal also heard there was no consultation about Hakim’s redundancy, no discussion on the possibility of suitable alternatives roles and no offer of an appeal procedure.
Hakim, who had worked with the union for 11 years, is bringing action against the STUC for unfair dismissal, race discrimination and victimisation, which the union denies. The case will proceed later this month following the tribunal’s ruling
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