Andreas Westerwinter said that during his time as the UK’s deputy permanent delegate to UNESCO – the UN’s cultural, educational and scientific arm – he was the target of racial slurs and unfair treatment, then finally singled out for a cost-cutting redundancy ahead of British colleagues.
“Racial slurs – such as being called a Nazi – were ignored or tolerated in the office, and grievance proceedings were not handled properly,” the Münster native told The Local this week.
“Being a German who has lived abroad for about 20 years, it’s something I hear from time to time, but it’s a bit more shocking in a diplomatic setting.”
Hired at the international development agency on a French contract by the British embassy in 2006, the 40-year-old said he found himself locked out of his office on a Monday morning in January 2009 after being fired by letter the previous Friday.
“There had been reviews conducted by the Foreign Office that found it was incorrect to call me a Nazi, saying it was offensive, especially since I’m German,” he told The Local. “They sent someone from London in December 2008 … and recommended diversity training. But this never took place and I was locked out of the office six months later.”
While his sacking was officially called a response to orders to reign in the budget, Westerwinter said it came amid tensions arising from his complaints about discrimination and his whistleblowing over wasteful spending in the office.
While he earned a yearly salary of £40,000 (€47,132), his boss allegedly received an expense package of some £200,000 for a luxury apartment and expensive school fees for his children.
Two other employees also on local contracts, but who were British nationals, were spared in the cuts, he said. His former employee also blacklisted him to another potential employer, while internal documents now show how his employers were part of an “Old Boy’s network” they used to protect each other from his complaints, he alleged.
Westerwinter has taken his case to both the British and French courts. Last week the Central London Employment Tribunal heard Westerwinter’s complaints, granting him an eight-day hearing set for late July, and French proceedings are scheduled for June.
If the London court rules in his favour, Westerwinter said he believes it could create the possibility for tens of thousands of locally employed British government employees around the world to make similar cases.
“In a new European reality, there is much higher labour migration at an elevated professional level, with people who might also be exposed to this more nuanced type of racism,” he said.
Westerwinter, who is representing himself in court, acknowledges that he does not fit the “normal profile” of someone who would file for a race discrimination case.
While he may not be the visible minority that lawmakers had in mind when they wrote anti-discrimination laws in the 1970s, with his German accent he is an “audible minority,” he said.
“That remains something that some people may think is improper – for me to sit in the UNESCO body behind the UK nameplate and speak on behalf of the British government,” he said. “It is far more subtle indeed, but unfortunately that doesn’t make any difference to the day to day reality when you’re subject to it.”
Meanwhile UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported last week that the expenses package for the current post of ambassador to UNESCO has been reduced, but that the DfID has refused to comment on the ongoing case.