Readers of this blog may remember the story of Christopher Chadwick and his battle with the British Council in Poland – catch up here. His battle was about unfair dismissal. Here’s another one – and it’s another cracker.
“GE” (we suppress his full name so as not to compromise his employment prospects elsewhere) was first employed by the British Council in Paris in 2000. In 2007, after seven years of uninterrupted employment, he was summarily dismissed on the telephone with no reason given. You may ask whether that fits in with the British Council’s picture of itself as a caring, conscientious, principled employer. The point was that since GE was originally appointed as a freelance teacher, the BC decided that they could just drop him when it suited them. After seven years. Well, as most readers will know, you can’t do that in Britain, and you can’t do that in France. So GE took legal action.
The wheels of justice grind slowly everywhere but always slower when the British Council is involved as the org seeks to prevaricate, circumvent, obfuscate, procrastinate and use all other manner of means to evade investigation. In this case this included wheeling in the British ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott to produce a statement in support of the British Council’s claim of diplomatic Immunity – a claim which the French courts treated with suitable disdain. But not even the British Council can postpone such things for ever. The case was heard and GE won. But the British Council appealed, so adding a further delay – of three years.
In the appeal court the British Council restated their position and made various claims purporting to prove that GE was not an employee. The judge was having none of it and ordered the British Council to pay damages and expenses. And the British Council was also ordered – twice - to provide pay slips so that an assessment of pension contributions etc. could be made. That was on 18th November 2010, and then again on 27th October 2011. It’s now February 2012 and the British Council is, incredibly, still dragging its feet. Indeed the British Council is now in contempt of the French courts, and on March 13th the organisation must appear before the “Juge de l’Exécution” whose role is to enforce the decisions of the court. By refusing to produce pay slips, the British Council is also liable to a charge of non-payment of state taxes – something the French take every bit as seriously as the Russians (where the BC eventually coughed up £1.4 million). Meanwhile the BC has turned to the Supreme Court (“Cour de Cassation”) in a last ditch attempt to have the case thrown out.
On April 1st 2011, with the BC still not complying with the court order, GE arranged to have the British Council’s bank accounts frozen. That was no poisson d’avril, and with such pressure applied the BC paid up the sums so far assessed; no problem for the British Council as it turned out as their local bank account contained over 700,000 Euros.
It would of course have been a lot simpler, and cheaper, if the British Council had understood that they were at fault and settled immediately. But instead the organisation spent large sums on legal fees (BC Paris spent over 81 thousand Euros on legal fees between January 2007 and November 2009 alone), paid for their prevarication, paid for the appeal and lost anyway. And how they wriggled. In July 2010 the British Council’s “Chief Executive” Martin Davidson was obliged to write a letter to Sir Menzies Campbell on the matter where he claimed that the org followed French labour legislation “to the full.” Tell that to the marines. This totally unnecessary case has lasted for years causing distress and hardship to a teacher who was completely loyal and very well thought of, it has made both the British Council and the FCO look very foolish in a place where we are supposed to be winning friends and influence, and has resulted in an enormous waste of time and money.
Only a few of such stories see the light of day – but they all point to a crass, spoiled, arrogant and incompetent employer making a general hash of things all over the place in our name. People like Sir Menzies Campbell should stop taking communications from the organisation at face value, rein the organisation in, make it properly accountable and subject its entire construct to radical review.