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Revealed: The man who sacked a woman on maternity leave is now head campaigner for women's equality in Scotland

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David HenckeLondon
Revealed: The man who sacked a woman on maternity leave is now head campaigner for women's equality in Scotland
A Glasgow employment tribunal has criticised a former chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council for sacking a woman employee on maternity leave. He has now got a top job championing the rights of women for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Meet John Wilkes. He is now chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland. The ECHR's top campaign at the moment is fighting against the discrimination of women who take maternity leave from their jobs.

As the ECHR's own research says on its latest campaigns website says:

" Around one in nine mothers ( 11per cent)reported that they were either  dismissed;made compulsorily redundant;where others in their workplace were not;or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job; if scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year."

   Great words. But they didn't seem to reach John Wilkes before he took up his highly paid post at the ECHR in Glasgow.

For then he held the job of chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, a respected body, which after a tribunal hearing in Glasgow appeared to do more for refugees than its own employees.

And one of those was Petra Kasparek,who was employed as a refugee integration adviser, who became pregnant and took maternity leave. When she decided to come back to work she faced a gruelling interview which included responding to some questions she would have been unable to answer properly, and then declared redundant.

The man who stood in for her Stephen McGuire was also sacked.

But a ruling on 6 July by a Glasgow employment tribunal has ruled that both were unfairly dismissed and that Ms Kasparek suffered indirect sexual discrimination under the Equality Act. Both are to get compensation amounting to thousands of pounds and the tribunal ordered Mr McGuire to be reinstated. The case was championed by their union, Unite, which even proposed ways to solve the dispute without sacking either of them.

But the most severe criticism comes in the tribunal's view of John Wilkes whose knowledge of the law and procedures as a chief executive seems remarkably lacking for such an experienced official whose Linked In profile portrays him as a top notch executive.

The tribunal said that Mr Wilkes had “a surprisingly poor understanding of the SRC’s ( Scottish Refugee Council's) policies and procedures.”He had “a poor grasp of how some of the SRC’s actions were at variance with its formal policies.”

He and the head of finance there also had" a striking lack of insight and appreciation of the criticisms levelled at their decisions."

One of the points raised at the hearing from Mr Wilkes was that Ms Kasparek had not tried hard enough after leaving to get a similarly better paid job so she wasn't entitled to compensation. In my view the man shows surprisingly little empathy or understanding of women who are looking after a baby.

The damaging point is he is now in charge of Scotland's Equality and Human Rights Commission policies including a campaign to help women being unfairly treated at work. One wonders how sympathetic he will be.

I put this to the Scottish EHRC and got a stock reply saying:

"John has brought to the Commission a wealth of experience, knowledge and dedication to our role in creating a fairer society and is making a valuable contribution to our work."

I did ask whether Mr Wilkes had been sent on a retraining programme since his knowledge of indirect discrimination under the Equality Act and other laws seemed to be rather minimal. But they told me they had nothing more to say.

Given the recent history of the EHRC in sacking disabled and black staff I might have been asking the wrong questions. He will probably fit in well with the ethos there.

He is also not the only recent appointment to the EHRC from organisations that have discriminated against women on maternity leave.

#John Wilkes, #Scottish Refugee Council, #Equality and Human Rights Commission, #maternity discrimination, #women's rights

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