A rail union chief will publicly challenge Network Rail at its annual general meeting (AGM) over the conduct of the organisation’s HR chief, Personnel Today has learned.
Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), said he would confront Iain Coucher, chief executive of Network Rail, over his continued defence of HR director Peter Bennett, during the AGM on 22 July.
It has been claimed Bennett sacked two female workers while they underwent fertility treatment, asked another to remove her blouse so he could see her holiday bikini lines, and forced another employee to leave after calling her a “f**king black bitch”.
Bennett is alleged to have signed 155 separate confidentiality agreements worth up to £950,000 in three years to cover his tracks.
Doherty said: “I shall be challenging Coucher at the AGM as to how he can defend the indefensible when it comes to Bennett’s behaviour in the workplace.”
A senior rail industry source close to Network Rail told Personnel Today that an internal inquiry into Bennett’s behaviour undertaken in November 2007 found that he had in fact acted “inappropriately” towards female colleagues – despite Network Rail since claiming Bennett had done nothing wrong.
The inquiry report said: “Peter Bennett has made repeated innuendos, jokes and comments in relation to gender or race.” But it said no action was necessary as he had not acted maliciously.
Doherty has already spoken to transport secretary Geoff Hoon and Network Rail’s chairman Ian McAllister calling for action against Bennett. Labour MP Jim Devine also attacked the HR boss in parliament last month, raising concerns put forward by the TSSA, claiming Bennett was “presiding over a culture of fear and bullying”.
Doherty added: “[Peter Bennett] should at least be suspended while an independent inquiry is held into how he has spent millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money covering up flagrant breaches of employment law.”
Network Rail refused to comment further on the allegations, but had said previously: “We have conducted an investigation and we found no grounds to take any disciplinary action.”