SCOTLAND’S most famous haggis maker is mired in a bizarre court battle involving allegations of racism and sabotage.
A former Polish employee of Macsween has taken the legendary firm to an employment tribunal, claiming he was dismissed because of his race.
Bartek Graas, 31, claims he lost his job at the Macsween factory in Edinburgh after bosses accused him and three Polish colleagues of sabotaging the production line.
He says he was wrongly accused of deliberately throwing a red plastic bucket in to a mincing and grinding machine last July.
Graas says he and his three compatriots were immediately dismissed but their Scottish supervisor escaped punishment.
Director Jo Macsween appeared at the tribunal in Edinburgh today (Tue), declaring that the incident was a potentially “catastrophic” act of sabotage and that the sackings had nothing to do with race.
The hearing heard that Graas moved to the UK in 2006 to pursue job opportunities, starting work with Macsween in March last year.
He said: “I always worked the backshift which was 2pm – 11pm Monday to Friday.
“When I arrived at work on Monday 26 July, I heard in the canteen that there had been some kind of contamination, which had involved one of the buckets used to collect waste materials.
“Soon after I was called in for an interview and asked if I had noticed anything unusual on my shift on the Friday evening.
“I was also asked if there were any tensions between our hygiene team, which is myself and three other Polish colleagues – Aradek, Sbignibu, and Boguslaw.”
Graas said he was not aware of any workplace tensions.
He added: “On the Thursday of that week I was called back in and I was told that they knew it was someone from our team, although they had no evidence for this, and that we would all be fired.
“I believe we were dismissed because of our nationality.
“My supervisor, Billy, who worked with us that night was not fired, and I believe that is because he is a Scottish national.
“Our other supervisor – Malik – is also Polish and he had not been working that night but was still punished.”
Jo Macsween said: “If the haggis had been packaged and sent out it could have been catastrophic, not only human risk but because when we had noticed we would have had to recall the product.
“A recall fine from Tesco alone is £4,000, and that’s just the start.
“This was an act of sabotage and is the biggest event of this nature I have had to deal with since becoming director.”
But Macsween insisted the men’s dismissal had nothing to do with their race or ethnicity.
She said: “If this had been the same situation with employees who were UK nationals the outcome would have been the same.
“And a few years ago we had another contamination incident – involving a Scottish employee – and he was dismissed for his actions.”
Macsween revealed that she had been interviewed by the BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston, about equal opportunities.
She said: “I told him – and still stand by – that in my experience of employing Polish workers they have always had a positive attitude to work – something I wish more people had back here.”
Fiona Bathgate, quality manager at Macsween, told the tribunal the red buckets are used to collect aluminium clips and haggis casing from those products that “burst” in the ovens.
The contents of these buckets are deemed “unsuitable for human consumption”, she said.
Bathgate said they had concluded the bucket was placed in the machinery deliberately, and that it must have occurred sometime between the end of shift on the Friday and the beginning of production on Monday.
She said: “The bucket was discovered on Monday morning and production had had to be halted because members of the production team had noticed small pieces of red plastic in with the mixture.
“It is lucky they found it when they did as it would not have been detected when the haggis had been cased.
“It came to light that while Billy had been doing some paperwork in his office later on in the shift, his team was left unsupervised and unrestricted within the factory.
“Malik had also admitted doing similar things when he had been on shift so that is why he was demoted too.”
“Billy was given a final written warning because he was ultimately responsible for them, and because he had not carried out his checks properly on the machinery – as he may have noticed the bucket if he had lifted the safety guard on the mincer-grinder.”