If you cast your mind back to the giddy days of February, David T wrote a couple of posts defending Ken Livingstone and David Irving. I was tempted to do something similar when I read about Arthur Redfearn, a former BNP councillor from Bradford who was sacked from his job as a bus driver on “health and safety” grounds when his employers, Serco Ltd, decided his bus could become a target for violent protests. Serco’s general manager justified the decision on the grounds that “We are responsible for people who are vulnerable and who have special needs on a daily basis. If someone approached Mr Redfearn because of his associations it could pose a risk to these people”. Mr Redfearn then made a claim of racial discrimination, which was rejected last week by the Court of Appeal.
Predictably, this has been spun as an attack on freedom of, oh, something or other – association, I suppose. Civil Liberty quotes his solicitor, Philip Chapman, as saying “This case…is about the principle of whether somebody can be penalised in the workplace, in this case losing his job simply because he has chosen to be a member of a particular political party”. Novopress says that “In real terms the establishment have given the all clear for employers to sack anybody who joins a political party that the employer dislikes”, and the Pub Philosopher concluded that “Sacking people for their thoughts and beliefs, rather than their actions, is unfair, even if they are members of the BNP”.
And I’d agree, except that wasn’t what the Appeal Court ruling was about. The full text of the judgement can be found here, and it makes it clear that the court wasn’t judging the rightness or legality of the decision to sack Mr Redfearn:
Mr John Bowers QC, who appeared on behalf of Mr Redfearn, said that there was a strong case for describing the dismissal as “unfair”…If this was an unfair dismissal case, there would be substance in the critical comments on the circumstances of Mr Redfearn’s dismissal. It is not, in general, fair to dismiss a person from employment for engaging in political activities or for being a member of a political party propagating policies that are unacceptable to his employer…Unpopular political opinions are lawful, even if they are intolerant of others and give offence to many.
But this is not (I repeat not) an unfair dismissal case. Issues about whether Mr Redfearn’s politics are acceptable or about whether Serco’s treatment of him was fair and reasonable are not relevant to this appeal. The case that Mr Redfearn has chosen to bring against Serco is for race discrimination against him.
The appeal rested on the fact that membership of the BNP is open only to white people. Because of this, the argument ran, it would be impossible for a non-white person to be dismissed as a result of BNP membership, therefore Serco’s decision to dismiss Mr Redfearn was racist, because it could only affect whites. The judges – perhaps aware that BNP membership isn’t an unavoidable and inevitable consequence of being white, dismissed the argument as “wrong in principle, inconsistent with the purposes of the legislation and unsupported by authority”. The reason he’d had to make a spurious claim of race discrimination rather than a genuine claim of unfair dismissal was that he’d only been in the job for 6 months, and under section 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims is 12 months. Additionally Mr Redfearn was unable to bring a claim against Serco under the Human Rights Act 1998 because Serco isn’t a public authority. If the right wing libertarians defending Mr Redfearn want to do him and others like him a favour, they should be campaigning for better workers’ rights and the extension of the Human Rights Act. I won’t hold my breath.
Meanwhile, in a not wholly unrelated story:
Brighton and Hove’s gay and lesbian business community has called for the resignation of a Conservative local councillor after he was reported to have labelled gay people as paedophiles at a city council party last week…(Peter) Willows last week admitted making the remarks but claimed he was drunk: “I don’t have the same hatred for the gay community that I have for paedophiles. But I don’t like them“.
Mr Willows has been suspended from the local party “pending a police investigation”. I hope the police conclude that they’ve got better things to investigate.
Heterodox in the comments has linked to a case in Massachusetts where a volunteer fireman lost his position because he signed a petition opposing gay marriage.
Returning once more to the giddy days of February, Rod Liddle wrote an article in the Sunday Times, saying:
It’s all gone a bit far, this persecution of people for saying things…You cannot and should not enact laws to coerce people to have more amenable views, be it about gays, Muslims, suicide bombers or the Holocaust. Nor should you persecute them with tribunals and the like.
Nor should you sack them from their jobs because of their private views.