Ford and unions agree plan to end Dagenham racism

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The Independent Online

The worldwide boss of Ford met British union leaders yesterday to thrash out a plan to eliminate racism at the company's biggest plant in the United Kingdom.

The worldwide boss of Ford met British union leaders yesterday to thrash out a plan to eliminate racism at the company's biggest plant in the United Kingdom.

The agreement, by Jac Nasser and employees' representatives, follows a history of tension at the plant and some of the worst cases of harassment in British industry.

Mr Nasser and union officials agreed an urgent review of race relations at the Essex complex to try to create an atmosphere "free from harassment of any kind".

There will also be national and plant-level committees to ensure the new regime is applied in practice. One union source said: "We want to make sure that fine words are translated into action." Some employees' representatives say senior managers had turned a blind eye to the problems, although union officials agreed a minority of shop stewards were unsympathetic to ethnic minorities.

The meeting yesterday was prompted by the prolonged racial harassment of Sukjit Parmar, an Asian worker who faced Ku-Klux-Klan-style graffiti and bullying.

As part of the deal, talks will be held to ensure that Mr Parmar can return to Dagenham's engine plant without fear of more victimisation.

The Parmar case has led to a spate of wildcat walk-outs, both by his supporters and his opponents.

Apart from individual cases of racism, the review will tackle the racial imbalances in some parts of the plant. While the proportion of black and ethnic minority workers in most departments is about 40 to 50 per cent, there are only a tiny percentage of non-white employees who have secured jobs as back-up staff for the whole plant or as lorry drivers with the relatively highly paid truck fleet.

Ford agreed to an equality audit and an investigation into the selection and promotion of employees, corporate image and "citizenship". One of the more bizarre examples of racism emerged when black faces were excised from a Ford advertisement.

To ensure the changes are implemented Nick Scheele, president of Ford of Europe, has been given responsibility for the project. The company is also to appoint a "diversity manager".

The signatories to the deal believe it will provide a "robust" basis for achieving equal opportunities at Dagenham and other plants in Britain.

A small joint steering group will be established to develop further details of the intended co-operation between unions and management, which is to report in 90 days. The agreement was signed by the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU), the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, the GMB general union and the MSF whitecollar union.

Earlier Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, said that the case involving Mr Parmar had lifted the lid on the "callous and systematic failure" of the company to take equality seriously. Management had claimed to adopt zero tolerance of racism, but had taken "zero action", he said.

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