Network Rail stands by HR director despite union campaign to oust him

Network Rail’s HR director has come under renewed pressure to resign over allegations that he repeatedly discriminated against female colleagues.

The Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) has repeated its call for Peter Bennett’s suspension, after concerns about his alleged behaviour were initially raised in a parliamentary debate in March.

Bennett was accused of sacking two female workers while they underwent fertility treatment, and withholding pay from them until a compromise agreement was signed, asking another female colleague to remove her blouse so that he could see her holiday bikini lines, and forcing another member of staff to leave after calling her a “f**king black bitch.”

Following these incidents, three senior employees are thought to have been paid between £450,000 and £850,000 in compromise agreements.

In April Vicky Lydford, former head of HR for national functions, received £500,000 in an out-of-court settlement after she accused Bennett of race and sex discrimination.

Labour backbencher Jim Devine questioned transport minister Lord Adonis in the House of Commons on 4 March about the use of public money to ‘pay off’ employees.

TSSA’s general secretary Gerry Doherty said: “[Bennett] is the man who has been identified in the House of Commons as presiding over a culture of fear and bullying at the very highest level. He is the man who has signed 155 compromise agreements over the past three years – one a week.

“I have asked for Bennett to be suspended. In any other properly run plc Bennett would have been suspended within 24 hours of Jim Devine’s speech in the House of Commons.”

But a spokesman for Network Rail told Personnel Today an investigation into Bennett has been carried out and no wrongdoing was found.

He said: “This is quite a nasty personal campaign by the TSSA. Allegations have been made and we take those very seriously. We have conducted an investigation and we found no grounds to take any disciplinary action. We are satisfied with Peter.”

“Network Rail has a modern, innovative and responsive HR function that takes its duty of care extremely seriously. Bullying or prejudicial behaviour is not accepted at Network Rail and where investigations into allegations reveal such behaviour Network Rail will take appropriate action against anyone, whatever their position.”

He added compromise agreements are not cover-ups but are a legitimate way for two parties to resolve differences. “They are never abused, never forced, and used sparingly” he said.

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