Managers blamed in BR racism inquiry: Asian trainee drivers were abused at London depot

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The Independent Online
AN INQUIRY into racism at a key British Rail depot in London recommends disciplinary action and a thorough shake-up of senior management.

The report - into harassment of Asian trainee drivers - is expected to lead to action that will serve as a warning to employees throughout the network.

Key officials at the centre who allowed junior management and drivers to get away with racial abuse will be compulsorily transferred.

The Asians, who work at one of the main Network SouthEast depots near Paddington, have now suffered a double dose of prejudice.

When they first applied to transfer to train driving from their jobs as guards, they all failed the test - unlike their white colleagues. In the face of legal action alleging discrimination, British Rail conceded that the testing procedures were biased against ethnic minorities and changed the system. Four of the Asian guards then passed the test and were transferred to the Old Oak Common depot for training.

When they arrived, however, some of the 200 drivers refused to take them out on trial runs and racist graffiti appeared on notice boards.

One senior industry source placed the principal blame for harassment on managers who were 'bloody incompetent' rather than malicious.

White employees at Old Oak Common resented the guards' decision to take legal action outside the usual process sanctioned by the RMT rail union, it is believed. 'Many drivers inhabit a traditionalist culture in which union loyalty is extremely important. Drivers are invariably male, overwhelmingly white and see themselves doing no other job other than driving trains,' the source said.

Part of the problem was that the management structure at most depots was 'flat', with scores of drivers, two or three clerks who draw up rosters and a small senior management team. Depot managers have rarely been through the mill as drivers and often do not get to grips with their sub-culture.

The report is now with top management in the BR division. They are expected to take action within the next few weeks.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said that the investigation had been carried out at the behest of his organisation and the union officials had sat in on interviews.

'Ultimately, responsibility for the racism has to be placed at the door of management, but everybody involved has to take his or her share of the blame.' He said the report on Old Oak Common covered sexual as well as racial harassment.