Shopworkers trade union leader John Hannett has called on the Business Secretary to personally apologise to former Woolworths and Ethel Austin workers for further delaying their compensation and leaving them unsure if they will ever receive anything.
Although the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) gave permission for the appeal, they have ordered that the legal costs Usdaw incurs on behalf of their members are paid by BIS because of their failure to attend the original appeal hearing, for which the EAT has accepted their apology.
John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “The Business Secretary is right to apologise to the EAT, but he now owes thousands of former Woolworths and Ethel Austin workers an apology for the way they’ve conducted themselves in the case.
“These workers were treated unfairly right from the very start by being excluded from the redundancy consultation, because they worked in a store of less than 20 employees. They were further wronged by being denied access to compensation and now face another delay in getting the award they deserve.
“These were mass redundancy situations because the businesses were closing down. It is no fault of the individual employee how small the store was that they worked in and we contest it is wrong for this loophole to be used to deny employees the justice they deserve.
“The Government should concentrate on encouraging administrators to focus on keeping businesses open, not supporting their failure to properly consult with workers, as required under the law.”
“I hope that all parties will work to get the matter resolved as quickly as possible to the benefit of former Woolworths and Ethel Austin staff.”
In January 2012 Usdaw won compensation worth nearly £70 million 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.
In May 2013 Usdaw won a landmark legal case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal that should have seen around 4,400 ex-Woolworths and Ethel Austin staff share over £5 million compensation. The decision overturned the previous ruling that saw shopworkers employed in stores with fewer than 20 staff denied a pay out when the Administrators failed to consult with the staff’s representatives, which they are obliged to do when a business goes into administration. This ruling will meant that the affected staff at Woolworths will be entitled to up to eight weeks pay and at Ethel Austin up to 12 weeks pay.