Japanese boss 'told manager his face looked like football'

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A manager demonstrated to an industrial tribunal yesterday how his Japanese boss kicked an imaginary ball into the air as he told him that his face resembled a football.

Cliff Wakeman, 42, is seeking compensation for unfair dismissal and racial discrimination from his former employers, the Tokyo-based Quick Corporation financial information company.

He showed the tribunal how Noriaki Nakajima, joint senior general manager of the company's London branch, pulled at his cheeks, saying: "You have a strange skin colour."

Mr Wakeman, formerly a pounds 52,000-a-year deputy general manager in charge of computer development, then kicked one foot into the air to demonstrate the gesture Mr Nakajima made as he told him: "Your face looks like a rock or a football."

Mr Wakeman, from Whitstable, Kent, told the tribunal that Quick's Japanese directors in Britain were running a "conspiracy" to prevent the advancement of his career because he was English.

"It was never possible for an English manager to reign over a Japanese manager," he said.

The directors liked to have Japanese staff in control "not so much for business operations, but for their own comfort".

Another senior employee with 20 years' experience told the tribunal he earned three times less than lower-ranking Japanese colleagues. Ashok Solanki, aged 44, from Edgware, London, an operations manager, said "the difference between British and Japanese salaries smacked of racial discrimination".

"It was beyond belief that Quick could have been treating us with such utter contempt. I was a long-standing manager and was paid under half the net income of even lower ranking Japanese managers and non-management Japanese staff."

Mr Solanki, who was made redundant after six years at Quick, Mr Wakeman and Stewart Mitchell, aged 45, from Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, all claim racial discrimination and unfair dismissal. Quick Corporation has admitted unfair discrimination but denied racial discrimination.

Mr Solanki fought back tears as he described how he worked 18-hour days and weekends because he was told that commitment and loyalty would advance his career.

"I was told that Quick looked after their staff and at my interview they said 'have you ever heard of a Japanese company making people redundant?'. I expected to retire with them and although my previous job had paid more, I was excited by working for an international Japanese company with a long-term productive career and the prospect of never being made redundant."

But Mr Solanki said he was repeatedly passed over for promotion and a general management job was given to Japanese nationals with less experience.

"I felt cheated and betrayed because I felt I had proved myself. It was clear that this was a master plan to evade providing general management positions to non-Japanese staff'' he said.

In July 1994, Mr Solanki received a letter saying he was surplus to requirements. He felt "physically sick and shocked".

"My whole life was shattered and in tatters - I had worked so hard for that company and could not bring myself to tell my wife for two days."

His pounds 39,500-a-year job was given to Mr Tekase whom, Mr Solanki later discovered, was earning three times more than him and had no experience.

"My marriage nearly broke up on a couple of occasions".

The hearing continues.