Racism hot line exposes threats, abuse and violence in workplaces

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The Independent Online

A racism "hot line" has exposed a picture of abuse, violence and even death threats against black and Asian employees in Britain's workplaces.

A racism "hot line" has exposed a picture of abuse, violence and even death threats against black and Asian employees in Britain's workplaces.

The phone service operated by the Trades Union Congress lasted for just five days and received 439 calls from employees in a wide range of jobs recounting daily experiences of taunts, name-calling and physical attacks. Many callers said they were forced to take time off because of stress. Others were suicidal.

Only one of the callers was prepared to be named - the others feared further victimisation. He is Ade Arogundad, who works for a charity for training young people in London.

Mr Arogundad, a finance manager with Springboard Southwark Trust, has received racist literature telling him he is not wanted at the organisation and he has been the subject of anonymous petitions sent to managers demanding that all black employees be removed from the workforce. On the advice of his line manager he has sent his complaints to senior management and to the police, who are both investigating them.

"I just don't understand why people can't work together in harmony," he said yesterday. "I want to prevent things like this happening in future."

About one caller in five was in a professional job. One academic at a university in London, told the TUC that he had contemplated suicide because of the treatment he had received at the hands of highly distinguished professors with international reputations. The man, of Asian origin with a doctorate, said for 10 years he had continuously been made to feel small in public.

One communications engineer from Manchester, the only black worker in his section, told of the word "nigger" being written on his pigeon hole and his locker. He has received death threats and colleagues once attempted to set him alight. He told the TUC he felt suicidal.

A black African woman who worked for one of the country's biggest holiday companies in London was constantly abused by a colleague who spoke of joining the British National Party. Soon other members of staff joined in, even "pushing and shoving" her.

John Monks, the TUC'sgeneral secretary, said theGovernment, employers and unions should act in partnership over the "catalogue of suffering" experienced by black and Asian workers. "Unfortunately, this is just the tip of an iceberg, but everyone should remember that racial discrimination is illegal and will not be tolerated by decent people." The TUC urged employers to train workers in resisting racism and called on the Government to introduce mandatory ethnic monitoring.

However, the TUC and the union movement itself have been accused of "institutionalised racism". Some of the callers to the hot line complained that trade unions had failed them. The movement has come under fire in the past because of the lack of union officials from ethnic minorities. Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, is the only black leader of a big union and all but a handful of officials at the TUC are white.

A spokesman said the hot line was an initiative of the TUC's Stephen Lawrence Task Group - established in memory of the black London teenager murdered in 1993 - and part of its remit was to ensure the union movement put its house in order.

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