Thompson NI Solicitors successfully pursued a protective award claim on behalf of the trade union USDAW.
Palmer & Harvey McLane Ltd was a wholesale company which sold grocery products. It supplied convenience stores and large supermarkets across the UK.
The company went into administration on 28 November 2017. As a result, around 40 employees were made redundant at the company’s site outside Belfast. Most of the employees were dismissed immediately and some were dismissed a few weeks later.
USDAW was the recognised union for this employer. Employment law places a duty on a company to consult the recognised union if it is proposing to make 20 or more employees redundant at an “establishment” within a period of 90 days or less.
There was no consultation in this case and so USDAW asked Thompsons NI to pursue a claim to the industrial tribunal about the company’s failure.
The two-day industrial tribunal hearing concluded on 1 March 2019 and the panel has recently issued its written decision.
The tribunal said that it was sure that the relevant duty to consult arose. In relation to the employees who were made redundant on 28 November 2017, the tribunal said that it was sure that the duty to consult was not complied with.
In relation to the employees who were made redundant in the weeks that followed, the tribunal said that it was sure that there were no interactions between the employer and USDAW which could reasonably be regarded as meeting the consultation duty.
The tribunal went on to say that based on the evidence it was not satisfied that there were any special circumstances which might have justified the lack of consultation.
The tribunal decided to grant a maximum protective award of 90 days. This means that the USDAW members covered by this decision have effectively been awarded a further 90 days’ pay.
Unfortunately, as the company is in administration, it is not expected to have the funds to pay the members their entitlements under the protective award. But that is not the end of the story.
In cases such as this, where the company is legally insolvent, the Redundancy Payments Service (part of the Department of the Economy) will cover certain employment-related debts. The Redundancy Payments Service will cover up to 8 weeks of any protective award (subject to certain conditions) and so the affected employees should be able to recover some of the money owed to them following this decision.
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