Journalist told war zone trip was "holiday" wins compensation19 April 2007
London journalist sent to Baghdad to interview Iraqi militants was told by his boss that he got the trip instead of a holiday, an Employment Tribunal was told.
Bahar Hussein, 49, had been employed by the Arab News Network for two years without receiving a single holiday. In October 2005 he was sent to Baghdad for two weeks where he interviewed Iraqi politicians as well as militants active in the insurgency.
His hotel was later bombed and badly damaged.
A London Employment Tribunal this week heard the extraordinary claim as part of Mr Hussein's case for constructive dismissal and non-payment of holiday pay and wages against Arab News.
Mr Hussein, who suffers from high blood pressure and had been told by his GP to take a break, took his first holiday in two years in June 2006. However, whilst he was on holiday, Mr Hussein’s managers replaced him with a new employee on a lower salary. For three months they refused to provide him with any work until Mr Hussein was forced into a resignation.
When questioned by the Tribunal as to why they had not allowed Mr Hussein one holiday in two years, his former manager told the Tribunal that the two weeks Mr Hussein had spent in Baghdad should be counted as a holiday.
The Employment Tribunal unanimously found that Mr Hussein had been unfairly dismissed and that his employer had unlawfully withheld three months salary from him. It awarded him £28,979 in compensation.
Mr Hussein said: "I worked hard for Arab News Network without taking a break only to be rewarded with a kick in the teeth. To suggest that I went to Iraq for a holiday is outrageous. I can think of much safer and more relaxing places to take a holiday than Baghdad.
"I discovered on my return that I was not even insured to travel to and work in Iraq."
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear commented: "The way Bahar Hussein was treated really does beggar belief. To send a journalist to a war zone, where his life is endangered and he does his best to carry out his work in a professional manner under the most difficult circumstances only to tell him that this constitutes a holiday, is utterly shameful.
"To then replace him with another lower-paid employee, in effect dismissing him, is a disgraceful way to treat a loyal member of staff. We are delighted that Mr Hussein has won his case and that the NUJ and our solicitors, Thompsons, were able to back him in his courageous stand against this shocking treatment by the Arab News Network."
David McElrea, Mr Hussein’s lawyer at Thompsons Solicitors said: "We’re seeing an increasing number of cases involving media outlets who think they can deny journalists their employment rights, including the right to holiday pay, with impunity. This case should send a message to other employers that employment tribunals will take a pretty dim view of such practices."