Arla Foods faces possible ‘substantial’ damages and costs over its ‘failure to consult’ before announcing that 230 jobs would be lost at its fresh milk processing plant in Essex.
Unite, the country’s largest union, has instigated legal proceedings claiming that Arla Foods failed to properly consult the workforce and their union when it announced that 230 jobs were under threat at the Hatfield Peverel site in March.
If this case goes to an employment tribunal, Unite believes that the total costs and damages for the company are likely to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Unite said that the management decision to close was made in January and February and the 45-day consultation process where Unite could have made counter proposals to save jobs was a sham, as the union was faced with a fait accompli.
Unite is taking legal action on behalf of its 75 members at Hatfield Peverel under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 claiming the company failed to inform and consult on collective redundancies.
Unite regional officer Mark Barter said:
“Our claim is that Unite was effectively only consulted on the consequences of the decision to close the site after the decision had already been made.
“There was no consultation on ways to avoid the dismissals and/or reduce the number of dismissals in good time prior to the decision actually being made, as required, or at all.
“We were told quite clearly by local management that the decision was made to close the site between January and February and, in fact, the board of directors’ minutes at the end of January actually agreed to look into accelerating the closure.
“Yet Unite wasn’t notified until March, so any consultation then became a fait accompli; basically it was a sham process.
“Unite legal services are now involved and our solicitors have now written to our members regarding our potential claim which would involve a protective award of up to 90 days compensation per member. The company is aware that we have started legal proceedings.
“If this case goes to a tribunal hearing, the total costs and damages for Arla Foods are likely to run into hundreds of thousands – a substantial figure, so we urge them to settle now.
“We have also registered for early talks with the conciliation service, Acas on this matter. This was nearly two weeks ago. Acas has approached the company and, as yet, I have yet to hear back from Acas so I presume that the conciliation service is still waiting for a response from Arla Foods.
“The consultation process has now ended and termination dates are being handed out to workers, although these look like they are being staggered.
“We are taking this action as Unite strongly objects to companies making redundancies without entering into a genuine consultation process with the respective trade unions.
“We claim that Arla Foods is flouting, not only the letter, but the spirit of the 1992 Act – and this should not go by unchallenged.”
Arla Foods announced in March that the plant could close by the end of July with the company’s £150 million Aylesbury site taking on the bulk of the Essex processing operation.
Notes to editors:
Unite’s other 55 members at the site are management grades and not covered by this bargaining group.
Unite legal services acts for over 20,000 members a year and recovered over £160 million in damages last year. Unite legal services provides support to members in respect of all types of employment tribunal claims.
Unite legal services recently won the holiday pay case allowing workers to receive their normal pay in their times of rest, this win alone was worth tens of millions in compensation for Unite members.
Unite legal services guarantee that members always receive 100 per cent of their damages.
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940.
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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.