The government’s equality watchdog is investigating claims that a pre-packed cooked meat manufacturer discriminated against UK workers by advertising jobs for Polish speakers only.
According to the Mail on Sunday, OSR Recruitment sent email notices out to hundreds of potential applicants on its books on behalf of Forza, which is a major supplier to the Asda supermarket chain. The adverts indicated that Forza was looking for factory workers to staff its East Anglia-based production line.
The message was headed "Immediate factory work available!!!!" said that "Applicants must speak Polish. Please call asap!!!!!!". The advert was signed by Katrina Massingham, OSR’s industrial team leader.
During an investigation by the newspaper, a reporter listened in while one UK job seeker telephoned the number provided. When asked: "Are you Polish?", he replied that he was not but could speak the language "a little". He was told: "Actually, you have to be fluent because the health and safety training is all done in Polish."
The procedure was repeated on several occasions and the same response elicited. But Neil Kinghan, director general of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), said that any refusal to register an applicant because of their nationality was unlawful under the Race Relations Act.
"The Commission will be writing to Forza AW this week to ask it to respond to the allegations made against the company and to confirm that it will comply with the Race Relations Act and not discriminate against British or any other workers on the grounds of their nationality," he added.
The news came only a day after the EHRC published a damning report into working conditions in the UK meat and poultry processing industry. It referred to the "widespread mistreatment and exploitation" of agency workers, particularly migrant and pregnant staff, and said that conditions were similar to those in developing countries.
But Max Hilliard, a director at Forza, told the Mail on Sunday that the advert was a mistake due to a "breakdown in communications" between his firm and the recruitment agency and that he had been unaware of the ‘must speak Polish’ clause until he was alerted to it.
"In normal circumstances, this ad would have been vetted and the error removed. But following the chaos of the fire, and the necessity to quickly set up production with 400 workers in another part of the country, the mistake was made, but wasn’t spotted," he said.
Forza, which has a £140m turnover and employs 600 staff, had about a third of its plant at its headquarters in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, destroyed by fire last month. As a temporary measure, it has leased factory space and machinery at Bernard Matthews Farms’ plant in Great Witchingham, just outside of Norwich.