Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Daily Mail on the side of Goliath (Unsurprisingly)

The Daily Mail is in a stew (1) because a worker in Tesco complained about being forced to do something he considered unconscionable, did not back down when he was bullied and threatened. He lodged a grievance with the company over his treatment which lead to an intensification of the campaign agaisnt him, which fianlly led to him quitting. He then sued Tesco for "racial discrimination, victimisation and harassment" (2).

This is a classic David and Goliath story, but because David in this case is really Mohammed Ahmed, an Muslim and - even worse - an immigrant from Saudi Arabia, the Daily Mail chooses to present the story rather differently:
A Muslim who claims he did not know Tesco sold alcohol is suing the store for religious discrimination after having to carry crates of drink as part of his job.

Forklift truck driver Mohammed Ahmed, 32, worked in a distribution depot for eight months before quitting 'in protest', an employment tribunal heard.

He claims he was forced to leave because handling beer, spirits and wine is against his strict Islamic beliefs and that he was victimised when he asked the company to give him another role.

Mr Ahmed, who was raised in Saudi Arabia, told the tribunal he had no idea his job entailed handling alcohol when he started work last September at the depot in Lichfield, Staffordshire. (3)
There is an awful lot of spin on this article. For a start, the case is described as centring on Ahmed's scruples over handling alcohol, and whether or not it was reasonable for him to know that Tesoc's sold it. That is a red herring, and the story seems to have been deliberately presented in this way to make Mr Ahmed look like that modern bogeyman of the Daily Mailite masses, the whining Muslim troublemaker who demands special consideration.

In actuality, this is a fairly typical case of a worker's rights being ignored and violated by the employer. That the employee was a Muslim is not relevant except to those of a certain prejudiced cast on mind. He is not asking for special consideration, but the same consideration that Tesco's claims it gives all its employees.

The actual case being tried is one of "Racial discrimination, victimisation and harassment" (4) which suggests there was probably some other issues at play. Perhaps these focused on his worries about alcohol, but that scruple is a secondary issue. The complaint is about the treatment he received when he reported he was not comfortable carrying out some of the duties assigned to him.

Certainly, Mr Ahmed seems to have tried his best to make the best of a situation he found difficult, carrying on for eight months and and only cracking "when extra alcohol arrived at the warehouse in readiness for Christmas" (5). His attempts to raise the issue were allegedly met with rude rejoinders ("Do not take the piss") and veiled threats to "Do the job or go home" (6).

After lodging his greivance officially, he was was the subject of further harrassment and bullying, eventually leading to him quitting.

He even seems to have tried to accomodate the demands of the job with his religion, resorting to the 'beer's okay' loophole that some Muslims exploit. This attmept to be reasonable seems to have been seized on by Tescos and is presented as a "Mixed message" (7) which rather makes a joke of their claim to be "Culturally sensitive and have an open-door policy to staff for issues like this" (8).

So, a worker is threatened and his requests that the company abide by its avowed policies of toleration and consideration is bullied and harrassed and eventually given no recourse but to quit his job due to a campaign of bullying and harrassment. This is all okay in the eyes of the Daily Mail because the victim in all this was a Muslim, and worse, a Muslim who had dared to say, "I'd rather not have to do this" - which was entirely his right, and then not accepted the curt dismissal of his concerns but taken his greivance further - again, in accordance with his his rights as an employee in Britain.

If he enjoyed being told what to do and not having any recourse or rights, he would, presumably, have remained in Saudi Arabia. As it is, he has the right to be treated fairly and have his greivance heard. Those who suggest otherwise should perhaps depart for Saudi, as their authoritarian instincts will be at home there.
1 - "Devout Muslim sues Tesco for making him carry alcohol," by David Wilkes, publised in the Daily Mail, 29th of September, 2008. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1063590/Devout-Muslim-sues-Tesco-making-carry-alcohol.html)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - ibid.
5 - ibid.
6 - ibid.
7 - ibid.
8 - ibid.

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