£50,000 payout for Union activists branded racist over “three wise monkeys” pamphlet

hmctsFour Union activists branded racist over a pamphlet distributed at Unison’s 2007 Brighton conference have won their battle for compensation in the Employment Tribunal.

Unison members Onay Kasab, Glenn Kelly, Suzanne Muna and Brian Debus produced a pamphlet for the 2007 conference which criticized Unison’s leadership for failing to listen to the concerns of members, with a cartoon of the three wise monkeys (who “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil”) depicting the failure of the leadership. However, Unison subsequently accused them of being racist and barred them from undertaking Union activities, accusing them of an “unintentional” racist slur against a black member of the Standing Orders committee. The four Unison member subsequently took claims to the Employment Tribunal and these claims were heard this month.

The Central London Employment Tribunal heard evidence from both parties and concluded that Unison had undertaken unlawful disciplinary action and that “no reasonable person” could view the cartoon as being racist. The four members stated that they had suffered from ill health as a result of the racism allegations and were awarded almost £50,000 by the Employment Tribunal, with Mr Kelly receiving £15,000, Mr Debus and Mr Kasab receiving £12,000 each and Ms Muna receiving £10,000.

The Employment Tribunal stated in its Judgment that “Barring them … from carrying out all their trade union activities caused them considerable hurt, distress, anxiety, stress and frustration” and “Having regard to the context in which the cartoon of the three monkeys had been used, it could not be said that any reasonable person would or should have realised that it would cause racial offence.”

A Unison spokeswoman stated after the Judgment: “Unison is disappointed at the ruling and the level of the award. We are also disappointed our earlier offer to settle by a payment to the union’s own welfare charity, There For You, was rejected by the claimants.”

Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented: “Employers have a duty to treat their employees in a reasonable fashion when taking disciplinary or dismissal actions. A failure to make a reasonable decision could lead to a constructive dismissal or unfair dismissal claim.”