A British holiday park company has agreed to change its work culture after it was found they were operating a ‘surname blacklist’ that excluded Gypsy and Traveller families.
An investigation by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission found that Pontins was using an “undesirable guest list”, which included many common Irish surnames such as Delaney and O’Brien.
In February of 2020, the commission received information from a whistleblower that alleged the company had a discriminatory booking policy that excluded Gypsies and Travellers.
The commission outlined that these practices included monitoring calls within its contact centre and refusing or cancelling any bookings that were made by people with an Irish accent or a ‘blacklisted’ surname.
Their list of Irish surnames was published on their intranet page, and it required staff to block any potential customers with those names from booking.
According to the commission’s investigation, Pontins was also using its “Commercial Vehicles” policy to exclude Gypsies and Travellers from its holiday parks.
The executive director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Alastair Pringle, commented on their practices, saying: “It is hard not to draw comparisons with an ‘undesirable guest list’ and the signs displayed in hotel windows fifty years ago, explicitly barring Irish people and Black people.
“Banning people from services based on their race is discrimination and is unlawful. To say that such policies are outdated is an understatement.”
The owners of Pontins, Britannia Jinky Jersey, have now signed a legally binding agreement with the commission to prevent racial discrimination in the future.
“It is right to challenge such practices and any business that believes this is acceptable should think again before they find themselves facing legal action,” Mr Pringle said.
“We will continue to work with Pontins and Britannia Jinky Jersey to ensure that our agreement is adhered to and its practices improve.”
Pavee Point addressed the situation today saying that banning a particular ethnic group is a “despicable” practice.
“This case shows not only how discrimination against Travellers is an ongoing issue - but also discrimination against Irish people in general in the UK,” they said in a statement to Independent.ie.
“People with an Irish accent were targeted by Pontins for negative treatment as well as Irish Travellers. This highlights the vulnerability of minority ethnic groups to discrimination and racism.
“We know anecdotally that similar bans on Travellers is a common practice throughout Ireland especially in restaurants, bars, hotels and retail.
“We know from recent reports that there is huge under-reporting of incidents of discrimination among Irish Travellers and we urge the Government to raise awareness on equality legislation as part of its forthcoming National Action Plan Against Racism.”
The legal agreement signed by Pontins requires them to conduct an investigation into their “undesirable guest” list to “ensure appropriate action is taken within the organisation and that lessons are learned”.
The commission will also do a review of its current intelligence system, booking policies and commercial vehicle policy to ensure they are not operating in a discriminatory way, and consider any recommendations.
Enhanced training will be given on equality law for staff in Pontins’ human resources team and members of senior management. This will be in addition to training on equality and diversity for all customer facing staff on an annual basis.
Pontins is also expected to appoint equality, diversity and inclusion champions across their organisation.
If Pontins does not adhere to the terms of the agreement, the commission has the power to launch a full investigation under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006.
A spokesperson from the owner's of Pontins said: “Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited has agreed to work together with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to further enhance its staff training and procedures in order to further promote equality throughout its business.”
The surnames on the “undesirable guest list” included Irish surnames such as; Cash, Connors, Delaney, Doherty, Gallagher, Horan, MacLaughlin, McMahon, Murphy, O’Brien, O’Mahoney and O’Reilly.