David Gibson Crutes

That’s the wonder of Woollies

When The Tipster was a lad his Saturday morning treat was to wander down to the Market Place in Durham and have a visit to the Emporium that was Woolworths. It was the shop that seemed to sell everything from bags of pick and mix to snow goggles to electric blankets to astronaut suits (well perhaps I am making that bit up!).

It was a sad day indeed when Woollies moved out of Durham and an equally sad day when the store went into administration. Some 30,000 workers were dismissed when this occurred and matters have been rumbling on in the Employment Tribunal.

Recently, the Employment Tribunal awarded Woolworths workers in England, Wales and Scotland, who had been made redundant at the end of 2008, a protective award of 60 days pay. Protective awards are made where there is a failure to go through the collective consultation provisions.

Only those working at the larger stores will initially receive the award but this may be challenged at a later stage. However, the key point was that the administrators were criticised for not doing more to involve the unions or other workplace representatives and when they did call consultation meetings insufficient time was allotted to deal with matters. Apparently, at one stage there were over 50 people joining a meeting on a phone. Now admittedly it was not in the phone box but you get the point.

It is estimated that the total value of the protective awards is over £60 million. Obviously the company is insolvent and the national insurance fund will be responsible for payment.

But what lesson for employers going through the collective consultation?

  • First of all be aware that the collective consultations do take effect where 20 or more employees are to be made redundant at any one site within 90 days or less.
  • Liaise with the unions/worker representatives.
  • Make time for discussions to take place.
  • Make sure that the meetings are documented and organised.
  • Deal with any snagging issues, i.e. some people cannot attend or can only attend at certain hours of the day.

There is no easy way of going through collective redundancies and it is a very painful process but in so doing going through a set and organised structure can save pounds, euros and dollars, perhaps even enough for a couple of bags of pick and mix.

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