On 25 May 2004, Mahmood Siddiqui, a 59-year-old postal worker at the Royal Mail sorting office in Harlow, was awarded £178,542 in compensation for racial discrimination by an employment tribunal.
Mahmood had suffered four years of racist abuse at the hands of his white colleagues which the tribunal found was ‘vicious and sly’. He was routinely called a ‘paki’ and a ‘spear chucking rag-head’, his car was vandalised and he and his family threatened in a campaign of abuse aimed at making him seek a job transfer. In October 1998, Mahmood, after suffering from stress, took sick leave and retired from work in 2002.
Mahmood complained to managers about the abuse, which started in 1994, but became worse when he suffered an injury that left him unable to carry heavy loads. But they failed to act. The Royal Mail only took action after hidden cameras were installed in the office (in 1998) and some of the men were caught on film and then disciplined. The tribunal found that his immediate manager gave ‘tacit support’ to the abuse and was reluctant to investigate the allegations. A Royal Mail internal review found that managers had failed to act on at least ten occasions when faced with allegations of racist abuse. The tribunal ruled that the Royal Mail took ‘no effective action of any sort’.
The written ruling of the employment tribunal found that ‘throughout the case the term banter was used as in “sorting office banter”. We consider this to have often been employed as a euphemism for the specific racial abuse that Mr Siddiqui received. He alone, as the only ethnic-minority employee on the night shift, was singled out for racial abuse. In short, there is no reason to doubt that Mr Siddiqui was the subject of a vicious campaign.’
Similar case before
The experience of Mahmood Siddiqui comes two years after the family of 26-year-old postal worker Jermaine Lee won £50,000 in compensation after launching a posthumous claim for racial discrimination against Royal Mail. The behaviour of staff at Royal Mail’s Aston sorting office in Birmingham, according to an internal report, led Jermaine Lee to commit suicide in November 1999. An inquest in 2000 found that he had taken his own life. In a note he accused his colleagues of bullying over an eight-month period. In a statement at the time Consignia (then the name of Royal Mail) had said: ‘It is with extreme shock, regret and sorrow that we found the actions of some employees contributed to Jermaine’s decision to take his own life. He did suffer harassment and bullying at work and there are strong indications that this weighed heavily on his mind.’
The Royal Mail, when asked about similarities in the two cases of Mahmood Siddiqui and Jermaine Lee, said they would ‘not tolerate any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination. In recent years Royal Mail has been working hard to improve all its procedures to prevent a case like Mahmood Siddiqui occurring again.’ Satya Katara, Director of Diversity, said: ‘A dedicated team was established at Royal Mail in January 2003 to spearhead a number of new initiatives, starting with a new Bullying and Harassment procedure that has been developed and widely communicated, with commitment from the unions.’ Royal Mail says that it is now running training programmes on unacceptable behaviours, has a 24-hour help-line, training for managers to spot bullying and a policy of dealing with complaints in four weeks. Katara concluded: ‘The business is totally committed to ensuring that a case like Mahmood Siddiqui never happens again.’ After the investigation into the death of Jermaine Lee fifty recommendations were also made including a new complaints procedure and training schemes to tackle bullying.