Former workers for the collapsed construction giant Carillion are taking legal action against the company through the UK’s largest trade union.
According to Unite, the 80 workers were employed by Carillion subsidiary Planned Maintenance Engineering Ltd, on a contract at spy agency GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Carillion went into compulsory liquidation on 15 January and a week later the workforce was told by liquidators PwC that they faced redundancy.
The union said the workers were dismissed on 6 February, without consultation, and were told to claim their redundancy pay from the government’s redundancy payments office.
Unite claims PwC told the workers that there was no recognised union at Carillion and that the liquidators would organise the election of employee representatives to consult on the proposed redundancies.
“As their section of Carillion was in compulsory liquidation, the normal Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (TUPE) regulations did not apply, so the workers’ employment and terms and conditions weren’t protected,” the union said.
Unite lodged the claim on behalf of its members in June, alleging that Carillion failed to comply with a legal obligation to carry out collective consultation before making members redundant.
“As the company was in compulsory liquidation, Unite has had to apply to the court in order for the claim to proceed and Unite is currently awaiting a response from the official receiver in relation to this,” it said.
Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: “Unite is fulfilling its promise of using all avenues including its legal arm to defend our members, who are the innocent victims of Carillion’s collapse.
“The complexity of this case, which combines employment law rights and draconian insolvency law requirements, demonstrates why workers need to be part of a union; it would have been simply impossible for individual workers to pursue such a case.
“If our members are successful then once again it is the taxpayers who are going to have to pick up the bill for Carillion’s failings. This again underlines that the outsourcing model is broken beyond repair and needs to be scrapped.”
Unite said the workers’ claim is against the Carillion employing company, but that the tribunal judge has included the business secretary as an additional respondent to the claim. This is because the department’s agency, the insolvency service, will have to pay if the claim is successful.
If successful, the workers can each be awarded up to 90 days’ pay, but because Carillion is in liquidation this would be paid in the form of unpaid wages and would be capped at eight weeks and a maximum weekly amount of £489.
A spokesperson for the official receiver for Carillion said: “From the date of the liquidation we’ve prioritised finding secure ongoing employment for as many of Carillion’s employees as possible to ensure the continuity of essential public services.
“It is for an employment tribunal to determine whether, in these circumstances, the consultation with affected employees met established requirements.”