BR depot was plagued by race and sex harassment

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The Independent Online
A CATALOGUE of racial and sexual harassment and managerial incompetence is revealed in a 'strictly confidential' internal report into one of British Rail's largest depots.

Four supervisors at the depot, Old Oak Common, near Paddington in London, have taken 'early retirement' as a result of the report, and BR has ordered a shake-up of administrative procedures which were described as 'dreadful'.

Senior figures at BR headquarters believe that similar conditions exist elsewhere.

The depot manager, however, who was shown to be guilty of at least one 'gross error of judgement', has remained in his post. The document described him as, 'conscientious, but operating at the edge of his competence'.

Morale at the depot, described by one female personnel officer as a 'male white bastion', was said to be at rock bottom, and many staff regarded it as a 'penal colony'.

BR has threatened to take further action unless the situation improves, and some sources believe the scandal will probably hasten plans to close the west London complex.

At the centre of the six-month inquiry were complaints by four trainee drivers of Asian origin, who were protesting about racist graffiti and constant discrimination. Some white drivers refused to take them on trial runs.

The four were among a group of non-white guards at Paddington who initially failed a test to become drivers but proved that the examination procedures were biased against ethnic minorities. The Commission for Racial Equality has since helped BR to draw up alternative selection methods.

When the four trainees transferred to Old Oak Common on 14 December 1992, however, they encountered a vendetta, partly because they had resorted to the law rather than the union in their battle to become drivers. When the trainees arrived, some of their colleagues saw it as 'pay-back time', the report says.

The investigators were Graham Eccles, director of the south central division of Network SouthEast, and John Nolan of the division's personnel department.

They also found that younger drivers took delight in swearing in front of female staff, and that some older colleagues believed women were physically and mentally unsuitable to become train drivers.

To make the atmosphere worse for women, blue films were shown on the night shift at Paddington, the investigators were told. The sexual harassment had continued despite attempts to deal with it.

The report says some train crew supervisors bore grudges, pay was constantly wrong, senior managers were rarely seen, and few people were aware of the British Railways Board's equal-opportunities policy. Worries over privatisation and job security were common.

Some staff felt that working with people of Asian origin was unsafe because their English was inadequate; others, that they were taking white people's jobs.

The document identifies one of the four trainees as the 'leader' of the group and reports that there were personality clashes with other members of staff. The four were singled out for treatment that was not meted out to other ethnic minority staff, the report says.

While conceding racial harassment took place, senior BR officials told the Independent on Sunday that the complainants might have been over-sensitive to mess-room banter.

The officials argued that delays in payments and difficulties over rostering were suffered by all the workforce, but were caused by management incompetence rather than racial prejudice.

Paul Nicholls, of the City solicitors Dibb, Lupton and Broomhead, who represented the trainees, said, however, that 'every possible obstacle' was put in the way of the four men qualifying as drivers. 'They showed tremendous personal qualities and strength of character in seeing it through.' The four are now about to start work as qualified drivers.

Roger McDonald, divisional director of the Thames and Chiltern division, which covers Old Oak Common, said management was not prepared to tolerate harassment or discrimination. 'We have now put processes in place so that staff fully understand the issues,' he said.

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