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.