The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has granted the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) the right to appeal against their landmark legal decision to include all Woolworths and Ethel Austin workers in a Protective Award award because of the administrator’s failure to properly consult on their redundancies.
Originally workers from stores employing less than 20 staff were excluded, but this was overturned after Usdaw took the case to the EAT.
Former employees from stores of less than 20 staff have now had their compensation payments further delayed and are left unsure as to whether they will ever receive anything, depending on the outcome.
Although the EAT gave permission to appeal, they have ordered that Usdaw’s legal costs are paid by BIS because of the Government’s failure to attend the original appeal hearing.
John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “We are very angry that this appeal has been permitted, but we will again fight the case in the Court of Appeal for the 1,200 former employees of Ethel Austin and 3,200 former employees of Woolworths who were denied an award purely on the basis of the number of staff working at each individual store.
“These workers were treated unfairly right from the very start by being excluded from the redundancy consultation, further wronged by being denied access to compensation and now face another delay in getting the award they deserve.
“It is particularly galling that the Government lodged an appeal after not bothering to attend the EAT hearing. These were mass redundancy situations because the businesses were closing down and it is no fault of the individual workers how small the store was that they worked in.
“The Government should concentrate on encouraging administrator’s 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.
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.