Polish students awarded £25,000 in discrimination and unfair dismissal case

05 April 2010

Two Polish workers have been awarded a total of £25,000 in an employment tribunal case against a Perthshire fruit picking company. The tribunal found against David Leslie Fruits on the grounds of race discrimination, dismissal for asserting a statutory right and unlawful deductions from wages. Central Scotland Racial Equality Council (CSREC) were able to provide the successful claimants with legal representation using legal grant funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Commission fund CSREC to provide advice and representation relating to discrimination.

Polish students Michal Obieglo and Tomasz Kowal lived on-site at David Leslie’s Scones Lethendy farm last summer. During the hearing, the Tribunal heard evidence about the horrendous conditions the students were housed in during their time at the farm, sleeping in a converted metal container with no running water, and sharing twelve showers between almost 200 people. Additionally, there were discrepancies relating to rates of pay, underpayment of wages, incorrect payslips and incorrect deduction of tax. 

When Mr Obieglo and Mr Kowal approached David Leslie on behalf of their colleagues with their concerns, they were threatened with dismissal and given a written warning. Mr Obieglo and Mr Kowal contacted the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Perth and continued to raise their concerns with their co- workers. They presented a petition to David Leslie with 145 signatories on it and were dismissed that day, allegedly for stealing fruit. 

This accusation was without foundation and prompted a general strike.  David Leslie then gave a personal pledge that the concerns of his employees would be addressed, and Mr Obieglo and Mr Kowal were re-instated. However, the next day, both men were asked to report to David Leslie’s office, where they were met by police officers and escorted from the premises. Their belongings were withheld until they had bought a bus ticket to Edinburgh. 

In the written judgement, Employment Judge Hosie said:

'There is no doubt that the discrimination in this case was serious. It caused the claimants’ considerable distress, leaving them at one point in the situation where they feared they would be left stranded and homeless in a foreign country with no money to get home, or even imprisoned for an offence which had been fabricated.  Their hopes of spending a pleasant summer picking fruit in Scotland and earning some money to assist with their University educations turned into a nightmare. They were treated appallingly, without any common decency or respect, and left frightened and humiliated.'

CSREC caseworker Richard Pitts described his clients' treatment as 'modern day slavery'. He added:

'Mr Leslie would not have dared treat Scottish people the way he treated my clients. He thought he could get away with it because they were Polish and didn’t know their rights. That was the reason the Tribunal found his actions to constitute race discrimination'

Ros Micklem, Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland Director said:

'This case highlights the clear mistreatment and exploitation that migrant workers can face. Too often workers from overseas are treated badly, on the assumption that they will simply put up with substandard conditions and illegal pay. We hope that it sends out an important message to employers in Scotland.  Discriminating against people because of their race or nationality  is not only wrong it can also lead to tough financial consequences.'

Mr Obieglo said 'The reason I want people to hear about my experiences is so that other foreign workers know their rights and know how to assert them – I want to be an example for people to follow.'

Equality and Human Rights Commission Related Information:

  • Last month the Commission published the findings of our inquiry into the exploitation of migrant workers in the meat processing industry in England. The findings echo many of the concerns raised by this Tribunal in Perth -  significant numbers of workers reported physical and verbal abuse and a lack of proper health and safety protection to the Inquiry, with the treatment of pregnant workers a particular concern. We found that many workers had little knowledge of their rights and feared raising concerns would lead to dismissal.  The inquiry uncovered frequent breaches of the law and licensing standards in meat processing factories - some of which supply the UK’s biggest supermarkets - and the agencies that supply workers to them. It also highlighted conditions which flout minimum ethical trading standards and basic human rights.

Notes to Editors

  • The monetary awards in this case totalled £25,620.28. 
  • For press enquiries contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission: Deborah Cowan on 0141 228 5938, Alyson Thomson on 07970 787234.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission will enforce equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It will also give advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.
  • Central Scotland Racial Equality Council is a charity founded in 1984 to support victims of discrimination and harassment and to promote good relations between peoples of different backgrounds.
  • Central Scotland Racial Equality Council is funded under the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Grant Funding Programme to pursue cases capable of being litigated under the Equality Enactments
  • For more information about Central Scotland Racial Equality Council contact Vicky Wan on 01324 610 950.