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Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Home Office contractors accused of using racist terms

As if it wasnt bad enough that the Home Office is pursuing a hardline immigration policy, an employment tribunal has said that it is “deeply concerned” about Home Office contractors who deport people from the UK having used the racist term “cotton pickers” to describe their black colleagues.

The Guardian reports that the Home Office uses the contractor Mitie to deport people to destinations including Jamaica, Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Ghana along with European countries and other locations. The escorts are only allowed to do this work if they have received accreditation from the Home Office. It is the behaviour of this company's employees that has come into question:

In a judgment from the London south employment tribunal (published on 4 June) a claim by a Mitie escort of Pakistani heritage, Muqaddas Zaib, based on race and disability discrimination, was rejected.

However, two witnesses who claimed that the racist term “cotton pickers” was used by some staff to refer to some black employees, were found to be “credible and honest” by the tribunal. The term is a racist, derogatory reference to black slaves subjected to forced labour in the southern United States.

One of these witnesses, a black detention custody officer manager called Denise Heslop, told the court that another member of staff said to her: “You’re nuttink but a cotton picker.”

In her evidence, the second witness, Linda Basiony, a representative for the trade union Community, said: “People would climb into the van and look at the list of jobs that had gone out. Some officers would make the comment: ‘I see that the cotton pickers were busy.’ [The black staff] were referred to as the ‘cotton pickers club’.”

Zaib claimed that he was discriminated against on the basis of his race and his disability, neurofibromatosis, which can lead to a smaller body size, because he was not given as many of these complex jobs as other colleagues. Mitie rejected the discrimination claims.

Although the tribunal’s judgment found no evidence of race or disability discrimination in the way Zaib was treated by Mitie the judgment stated in relation to use of the term “cotton pickers”: “Whilst the tribunal stops short of concluding that there was a racist culture (within Mitie) it was deeply concerned firstly that such offensive comments were made by employees but also that they appear not to be isolated incidents. It appeared to the tribunal that there was a reluctance on the part of those subject to such banter, to complain.”

Surely the Home Office needs to carry out a thorough investigation of these claims.
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