Pounds 2,000 award for 'black slaves' slur on five staff

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FIVE catering staff sacked from London's prestigious South Bank arts centre after being referred to as 'black slaves' were each awarded pounds 2,000 yesterday.

A south London industrial tribunal ruled that National Leisure Catering Ltd had racially discriminated against the five. It accepted evidence that a senior manager, Mark Perl, was overheard by one of the five saying: 'I am going to see my black slaves.'

On another occasion Mr Perl was said to have told a white employee that she should not resign because the management was 'only after the blacks'.

The case arose after the company took over the contract for the South Bank, which includes the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth halls and the Hayward Gallery, in February last year. The five, who had been supervisors for the old contractors, were offered new contracts demoting them to counterhands. They refused and six weeks later were sacked.

The awards were made for 'injury to feelings', although the tribunal found that they had not been unfairly dismissed as they had been on strike at the time. In its ruling, the tribunal said this was not just a case of 'someone making injudicious remarks which had no practical effect'. The five 'would have been found to connect the remarks with their jobs and future, as well as suffering the natural injury to feeling such remarks inevitably give rise to'.

After the decision, one of the five, Frank Keneyinboh, 32, of Deptford, south London, said he was satisfied with the ruling but not the award. 'That six weeks was a living hell. We were subjected to all sorts of racial abuse.'

The Commission for Racial Equality, which supported the case, said: 'The five . . . were subjected to unfair treatment because they were black. We are pleased that has been recognised . . .'

Later, Tom Mayers, the catering company's managing director, said that it was taking legal advice on whether to appeal.