April 14, 2009

Fourteen council staff suspended for circulating 'anti-Semitic' joke on email

Council chiefs have suspended 14 members of staff after they exchanged a number of Jewish jokes via email. The 'offensive' jokes are believed to have been sent in flurry of exchanges between staff, including social workers. A full investigation has been launched.

Union bosses have been left reeling by the number of staff members embroiled in the controversy. Les Parker, a Unite union representative, said: 'I have been here for 40-odd years and I have never seen anything like this number of people suspended in one go. Usually it’s one person or maybe two, never ever in the teens like this. For this to have happened it’s got to be serious.'

Sources say the jokes were racist and offensive and could lead to staff members being sacked from their jobs.

A senior source said: 'Exchanging jokes through work computers is not really a productive pastime for council workers but a bit of banter is tolerated. However these 'jokes' obviously breached the council's policy of inclusion and religious and racial tolerance. I would not be surprised if the authors of the worst jokes were shown the door. Local authorities have to come down hard on race or sex discrimination. By failing to do so they would be tacitly agreeing with the views set down in these jokes.'

The staff were suspended ahead of disciplinary proceedings, which will get underway tomorrow, and could be sacked if found guilty of gross misconduct. And the investigation could involve even more workers as council officials try to get to the heart of the offending emails.

Some of the emails are believed to have contained anti-Semitic comments and the suspended staff are believed to include white and Asian employees working in the Adult Social Care and the Children and Young People departments at Lancashire County Council.

Earlier this year Richard Jones, the council’s head of Adult and Community Services, was selected to sit on a new social work Government task force. The Social Work Taskforce was set up to undertake a comprehensive review of frontline social work practice across adults and children’s services. It has been asked to identify any barriers social workers face in doing their jobs effectively and has been asked to make recommendations for improvements and long-term reform in social work.

In a letter sent to councillors, chief executive Ged Fitzgerald said the staff had been suspended for 'inappropriate email use'. Mr Fitzgerald said: 'Investigations of this nature may result in disciplinary action or in some cases termination of employment. I am sure you will understand the need for us to adopt a stringent approach to this issue.'

Hazel Harding, leader of the Labour-controlled council, said: 'We have a code of conduct for anyone who uses our email systems and we take it very seriously.'

Another senior council source said: 'This could be just the start. What tends to happen is the more they start digging they tend to find other people.'

In February BT suspended 30 of its call centre staff after they were caught forwarding an email joke poking fun at the Irish. The joke was circulated at the BT call centre in Leicester, which employs 340 people, and staff were suspended on full pay pending an investigation which is presently underway.

Mail Online

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The other side of the story from Preston Stop the War Coalition:
Found on left-wing bloggers site:


Council staff suspended for receiving pro Palestinian e mail
Posted on April 18, 2009 by Liam


Last Wednesday Lancashire County Council suspended 14 employees for misuse of email. Eleven of the fourteen employees were Muslims. The actual details of the allegations have yet to be presented, however, early indications appear to point to the employees receiving an email highlighting the plight of the Palestinians. The email has been deemed to be racist and offensive in nature.

Preston Stop the War believe that Lancashire County Council has grossly over-reacted in this particular instance. Lancashire County Council must
realise that the Palestinian issue is not just an issue for the Middle East, but touches the lives of many across the world, particularly the Muslim community. It would be setting a very dangerous precedent if it feels that disciplinary action and possible dismissal is its preferred course of action in this particular instance.

Preston Stop the War would urge Lancashire County Council to reconsider its current position and stop all current disciplinary action.


Tony Benn (Former MP and President of the National Stop the War Coalition)

I do not know the full details of the case, but to dismiss people for receiving or sending their opinions on any subject would be a denial of freedom of speech. In a democracy these are the values we are supposed to be defending.

Councillor Michael Lavalette (Preston City Council):

“I am absolutely amazed that LCC have decided to take such a heavy-handed approach. This appears to be a politically motivated decision rather than a moral one, particularly with the Government’s current drive for dealing with perceived ‘extremism’. Discussions and communications in relation to current topical issues such as Palestine are unavoidable.”

Barrie Levine (Chair of Jews for a Just Peace)

“Since Israel’s war on the people of Gaza there has been justifiable
concern about the degree of force used against the civilian population, including allegations of war crimes. This has led to a wave of anger internationally and widespread internet traffic exposing the actions of Israel’s forces. Some of the material circulating on the internet makes mistaken parallels with the actions of Nazi Germany against the Jews. Whilst some of this material is crass, it would be wrong to equate this with anti-semitism. There are thousands of Jews worldwide who are equally concerned with Israel’s actions. As a supporter of Jews for Justice for Palestinians I would oppose the criminalisation of people reading such material on the internet.”

Maulana Elyas (Imam of Mahadus Shuhuda Mosque, Deepdale Road)

Islam teaches that all employees behave fairly and justly in their employment. However, the employer also needs to be fair and just with its employees. I am sure that a simple word in their ear would have done the trick, rather than resorting to suspensions and possible dismissals.

Ismail Timol (Children of the Ghetto)

In January we organised some of the biggest demonstrations seen in Preston
and they were over the issue of Israel’s assault on Gaza. The United Nations are now investigating crimes against humanity. It is only right that people can discuss these horrors.