Halfords has apologised after admitting that managers at one of its stores called Travellers “p*keys” and shared a racist meme of south Asian people in a WhatsApp group.
Worker Alan Wainwright, 60, raised the alarm after he said he heard two senior colleagues at the one of company’s branches in the north of England make the offensive remarks about members of the Traveller community over radio headsets on numerous occasions in September.
In a separate incident, he claims a colleague posted a video appearing to make light of a Pakistani man drowning in a WhatsApp messenger group, after British-based Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his 19-year-old son Suleman died in the Titan submarine disaster off the coast of Canada.
Mr Wainwright said the caption of the video read: “Here is the audio of the knocking they caught from the submarine”. A man is then heard saying: “I am underwater, please help me”.
When approached by The Independent about Mr Wainwright’s claims, a spokesperson for Halfords said: “We investigated these allegations thoroughly and took immediate action.”
“We have robust policies in place and the colleagues involved have been required to repeat our equality and diversity training module”. The retailer declined to confirm whether Mr Wainwright’s specific claims were true, though a spokesperson stressed that “action was taken”.
Mr Wainwright said it was not the first time he had heard colleagues make racist remarks and claims he witnessed “a range of racist and other vile conduct” from colleagues during his time at the store.
In a letter sent to the CEO of Halfords Group Graham Stapleton, seen by The Independent, Mr Wainwright wrote to raise his concerns.
It read: “A simple Google search reveals that the company has recently lost an employment tribunal for racism and that another racism claim by Mr Adjei-Dawkins, another former employee of Halfords, is being heard in November following three preliminary hearings.
“I’ve made contact with Mr Adjei-Dawkins and made him aware of some of the racism I encountered at Halfords. I therefore do hope you urgently conduct a full and proper investigation into these matters.” Mr Wainwright claims he did not receive a response.
The trade unionist, who worked part-time at the store for three months, claims he was sacked after he raised his concerns, while the workers he complained about remain in post.
Mr Wainwright claims that his complaints and previous trade union activity, where he exposed the secret blacklisting of over 3,000 workers by 40 of the UK’s largest construction companies, led to his dismissal.
Halfords confirmed that the workers who were subject to these complaints still worked for the company but denied that Mr Wainwright was unfairly dismissed.
A Halfords spokesperson said: “Alan Wainwright was dismissed during his probation period for failing to follow the proper process with regard to absences on two separate occasions.”
The Independent has previously exposed racism concerns within Halfords in recent months.
In July, former Halfords sales advisor Christopher Best spoke exclusively to The Independent about his employment tribunal victory after being racially abused by a manager at Halfords, his anguish at the ordeal – and his outrage that the senior staffer still works for the company.
The month before, Mr Adjei-Dawkins, a former assistant manager at Halfords, told The Independent he was bullied by managers and paid less than white colleagues in junior positions. His case will be heard at an employment tribunal later this month.
Mr Wainwright has been staging one-man anti-racism protest outside of his old workplace for the past four weekends.
He told The Independent : “I don’t need any motivation to stick up for people who have been discriminated against – my track record shows this. I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years at a massive cost.
“Considering my personal experiences at Halfords, and the matters The Independent has previously reported on, it is now clear to me that Halfords management has absolutely no intention of even recognising the racism in their business, let alone take any real action to prevent this from happening again.”