Managers at a Burnley paper mill have been told to take steps to combat racism in the workplace after an employment tribunal found that three Asian workers at the mill had been racially discriminated against.

An employment tribunal in Manchester will decide on Wednesday 16 May how much compensation the men should be paid by the company.

All three men had been the victims of race discrimination when managers at the Smurfit mill (now Papermarc) failed to promote them in favour of white colleagues, a tribunal found.

Racist insults and banter were commonplace on the shop floor of the mill, the tribunal said. Shift managers and team leaders were well aware that such comments were being made but took no action.

All three men were passed over for promotion and while managers did not deliberately discriminate against them, their decision to each time promote a white worker instead was shaped by the attitudes that existed on the shopfloor, the tribunal found.

One man was not promoted because it was decided that he would be "a less effective team player" and would "command less respect", another because it was felt he would not "fit in" in the way a white worker would.

And the third man was passed over for promotion because he was considered to be "difficult and disruptive" when all he was doing was standing up for himself when subjected to racial insults.

Equal opportunities "is a problem" at the Smurfit mill, the tribunal said and combating it "is a major task which should be tackled as soon as possible".

Senior managers and the GPMU, the trade union which represents the majority of workers at the mill and took the men's cases against the firm, have pledged to work together to tackle racism at the site.

Rob Canavan, GPMU Father of Chapel at the mill said: "This case reveals how a workplace culture that allows racism to go unchallenged can lead to employees being discriminated against, however unintentional that act is. The GPMU will not shy away from challenging racism wherever it exists and is determined to work with managers to ensure that the culture that exists at this workplace is changed for good.

"We have now agreed equal opportunities policies with the company which are in place and operational. I have also participated in the training of company managers on equal opportunities."

Mark Berry of Thompsons solicitors, the GPMU's law firm, said the case sent an important message to all employers.

"Because finding and proving direct evidence of race discrimination is difficult these kind of cases are complex and not easy to win. I applaud the tribunal's decision because it has the courage to recognise just how institutional racism can result in race discrimination whether or not it is the intention of individual managers."

Note to editors The employment tribunal found in February that Mr H Khan, Mr M Ibrar and Mr M Abid had been discriminated against under the Race Relations Act 1976. All three men are due to be awarded compensation for loss of potential earnings and injury to feelings at a remedies hearing on 16 May. The case was taken against Smurfit, which is now called Papermarc.