Systematic racism at car plant `was ignored by Ford'

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The Independent Online
FORD MOTORS was accused yesterday of "institutionalised racism" for failing to take action over systematic harassment at its Dagenham works.

Sukhjit Parma, a production worker at the engine plant, suffered "the worst case of racial harassment" that his union, the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), had ever come across.

Mr Parma suffered abuse and threats and had been confronted with images of the Ku-Klux-Klan. Some senior union officials said yesterday that they believed that the racism was partly the work of the British National Party.

Despite acknowledging that the worker had been the victim of prolonged intimidation and victimisation by two junior managers, the company did nothing, said Bill Morris, the TGWU's general secretary. He demanded a meeting with Jac Nasser, the global president of Ford, to discuss the case.

Mr Parma suffered years of routine abuse by his foreman and his team leader. Once, he opened his sealed pay packet to find the word "Paki" scrawled inside. In another incident, he saw graffiti threatening to throw him to his death, where he would join "nigger Lawrence" - a reference to the murdered schoolboy Stephen Lawrence.

Mr Parma, who wept at the press conference held by the union at its London headquarters yesterday, has been off work since August because of a stress- related illness.

On one occasion he was ordered into the "punishment cell", a small booth in which oil is sprayed over engines, but he was not allowed to wear protective clothing. He became ill and needed medical attention.

On another occasion Mr Parma had his lunch kicked out of his hands and was told: "We're not having any of that Indian shit in here." He was also warned that he would have his legs broken if he ever named any of his tormentors. The police were called in at one stage, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided to drop charges.

Under pressure from the union, management started an investigation into complaints by Mr Parma and another worker. The inquiry was completed in 1998 and conceded that he had suffered considerable distress at the hands of his immediate superiors. But management took no action for 10 months, until last Friday, when the team leader was dismissed and the foreman demoted.

The company has admitted liability at the Stratford employment tribunal, and the union is in talks with management over compensation for the workers.

The union is also arguing for the introduction of new procedures to ensure that racism at the engine plant is stamped out.

Mr Morris said that while employees at other Ford plants had not suffered the same intimidation, Mr Parma's treatment constituted another example of "institutionalised racism" at Ford. Management at the engine plant had consistently failed their black workers, but he believed it was the tip of the iceberg.

"The local workforce do not have confidence in the management to deal adequately with the situation. There must now be an inquiry conducted from outside the plant."

Steve Turner, the union's regional industrial organiser, said Mr Parma's treatment had been particularly unpleasant. "The company must be held to account so that no one should ever have to go through such an appalling experience again."

Ford accepted responsibility for the racial harassment and apologised. The incidents would be dealt with internally by the company, it said.