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Redundant Unite members secure protective award

Williams Industrial Services Ltd was a company that provided environmental engineering services. Unfortunately, it went into administration on 6 February 2018. The joint administrators immediately made the Claimants in this case redundant.

Under employment law rules an employer has to consult with its workers when it is proposing to make 20 or more employees redundant at an “establishment” within a period of 90 days or less.

The consultation did not happen in this case and Unite Legal Services asked Thompsons NI to pursue a claim to the industrial tribunal about the company’s failure.

On 29 April 2019, the case was heard in Belfast and a decision has recently been issued. The tribunal said that the relevant duty to consult arose and went on to find that there was no collective consultation in relation to the dismissals which took place on February 2018.

The tribunal then had to consider whether there were any reasons to justify the lack of consultation and said: "On the basis of the evidence which was made available to us, we are not satisfied that there were special circumstances which rendered it not reasonably practicable for the employer to comply."

The tribunal decided to grant a maximum protective award of 90 days. This means that each Claimant who pursued their case to the full hearing is entitled to a further 90 days’ pay. These Claimants were entitled to the protective award because, when they were dismissed, they were assigned to the “establishment” where the consultation should have taken place.

Given that the company is in administration, the tribunal noted that it was not expected to have sufficient funds to pay the protective award. However, in cases where a company is legally insolvent the Redundancy Payments Service (part of the Department of the Economy) will cover certain employment-related debts.

This means that the Claimants in this case will be able to ask the Redundancy Payments Service to pay them part of the 90 days’ pay that they were awarded. The Redundancy Payments Service will cover up to eight weeks of any protective award (subject to certain conditions).

Susan Fitzgerald, the Unite official who was dealing with this case, said this about the tribunal’s decision: “The background circumstances of this case were extremely difficult for our members and there were some complex legal issues involved. However, we are happy that Unite Legal Services has obtained a positive outcome for those members whose claims we were able to pursue to the tribunal hearing.

“Securing the maximum 90-day protective award is an excellent result and should enable the members in question to obtain a further payment from the Redundancy Payments Service.”

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