The Government’s appeal against an Employment Appeal Tribunal decision to compensate Woolworth’s and Ethel Austin staff who worked in stores of less than 20 employees will be heard in the Court of Appeal today, 10.30am on Wednesday 22 January 2014.
John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: ‘We remain disappointed that the Government is going to great lengths to deny justice for these low-paid workers and a modest compensation payment for not being properly consulted on their redundancy.
‘It makes no sense that workers in stores of less than 20 employees were denied compensation, whereas their colleagues in larger stores did qualify for the award. In both cases these were mass redundancy situations where thousands of workers lost their jobs. How can anyone suggest that the redundancies should be treated on a store-by-store basis when the whole company was closing down?
‘The Government’s failure to attend the original Employment Appeal Tribunal, for which they have rightly apologised, and the lodging of this appeal means that not only is the payment of compensation further delayed, but the taxpayer will have to pick up the whole of the legal bill for this appeal.”
‘We hope that tomorrow the Court of Appeal will uphold the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal and that the Government will accept the outcome, so that justice can be done. That will enable the outstanding compensation award to be paid to the former Woolies and Ethel Austin workers, who have now waited over 5 years.’
In January 2012 Usdaw won compensation worth tens of millions of pounds for 25,000 former employees of both companies, but around 1,200 former employees of Ethel Austin and 3,200 former employees of Woolworths were denied compensation because they worked in stores with fewer than 20 staff.
The decision to deny compensation to staff who worked in smaller shops was based on the interpretation of UK law, and it was greeted with outrage by former employees, customers, politicians and sections of the media. Usdaw fought the clear injustice of this decision.
Against this background, in May 2013 Usdaw won a landmark legal case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that should have seen those excluded staff back into the compensation scheme. This ruling not only meant that those excluded staff at Woolworths and Ethel Austin would have been entitled to the compensation received by employees from bigger stores, but that the law would be changed permanently in the same circumstances for all future workers from small stores.
Despite the Government’s failure to attend the EAT hearing they sought leave to appeal the decision, which was granted on 10 September 2013. The Government apologised to the EAT for their non-attendance at the original hearing and the Government were ordered to pay Usdaw’s full costs for the forthcoming appeal.