‘Menaced’ Polish worker wins damages after food firm discrimination

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

‘Menaced’ Polish worker wins damages after food firm discrimination
A Polish worker has been awarded over £50,000 in damages by a Northern Irish Industrial Tribunal after suffering sexual and racial harassment at Mac’s Quality Foods.

The Dunmurry-based company makes frozen, chilled and ambient meat and other products for the wholesale, retail and fast food sectors, and distributes goods throughout Ireland.

Polish worker Maria Urbanska-Kopowska worked at Mac’s Quality Foods as a production operative from September 2006 to July 2008, where her duties involved washing machines, assembly line work and cleaning toilets.

Serious sexual harassment

During her employment term the tribunal found that the claimant was “menaced” ​by sexual harassment from a male co-worker “over a number of months” ​. His actions included: stroking her hand, stripping to his underwear before her, using terms of endearment, taking her photograph, making personal remarks and saying he would get drunk and have sex with her.

Differential treatment due to race was also proven: one manager swore at Urbanska-Kopowska in Polish, found the tribunal, and “did not swear at all at the local workers”​; Urbanska-Kopowska was also allocated tasks such as cleaning dead insects off a freezer, a job “local workers were not required to do”.

Urbanska-Kopowska finally complained of the sexual harassment to Mac's Quality Foods owner Danny Mcllroy at an October 2007 meeting, and, according to the tribunal, “was in tears, distressed and waved her arms around”, ​but the tribunal found that Mcllroy was not interested in her problem.

Certified by a doctor as unable to work from December 2007, Urbanska-Kopowska sent a grievance letter to Mcllroy in January 2008 alleging sexual harassment; however, the tribunal noted that a grievance meeting did not occur until April 2008, with “no reason provided for the inordinate delay”.

No harassment policy

“There was no timeframe for the grievance before the tribunal and no grievance policy produced to the tribunal,” ​it said.​Mcllroy told the tribunal that the timeframe was contained in the statement of terms and conditions of employment, but this in turn referred to the ‘staff handbook’. The tribunal noted that “he ​[Mcllroy] was unable to say where the staff handbook was”, ​and confessed to not having a harassment policy.

According to the tribunal, in May 2008 Mcllroy rejected the grievance “upon the basis that there was a conflict of evidence and it was impossible to make a decision in the circumstances”,​ an action that prompted Urbanska-Kopowska to resign in July 2008 and lodge a tribunal claim that September.

The tribunal said: “Even if this was really the case ​[that there was a conflict of evidence], it would have been open to him to take steps to protect the claimant and monitor the situation ... Effectively, Mr Mcllroy left the claimant with no support or protection at all.”

FoodManufacture.co.uk contacted Mac’s Quality Foods for a response but no-one was available to comment on the case.

Jennie Formby, Unite national officer for food and drink told FoodManufacture.co.uk that it was difficult to gether accurate statistics on harassment in the sector: "I would say that such cases are more prevalent than people think, but this is quite an unusual case given that it's hard to find people prepared to speak out because they fear losing their jobs. After all, you depend on an employer for your livelihood."

Related topics: People & Skills

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