The legal action is being led by Unite on behalf of a group of 27 members who were made redundant following the collapse of Carillion in January. The legal action is the first taken by a union for affected workers following the company’s insolvency.
Unite's members were employed by Carillion subsidiary Planned Maintenance Engineering Limited on a contract at General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the government's listening headquarters in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Carillion went into compulsory liquidation on 15th January 2018 and on 23rd January the 80-strong workforce was told by liquidator PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) that they faced redundancy, that there was no recognised union and they would be organising the election of employee reps to consult on the proposed redundancies.
The workers were dismissed on 6th February without consultation and told to claim their redundancy pay from the government's redundancy payments office. The Unite members were then taken on by G4S. 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' previous employment and terms and conditions were not protected.
Unite Legal Services lodged the claim on behalf of its members in early June, for a failure to comply with the legal obligation to carry out collective consultation before making members redundant. As Carillion was in liquidation, Unite has had to apply to the court for the claim to proceed and it is now waiting for a response from the official receiver.
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.”
The claim is against the Carillion employing company, but the tribunal judge has also added in the secretary of state of business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) as an additional respondent to the claim as it is his agency, the Insolvency Service, that will have to pay the claimants if the claim is successful.
Units said that, if successful, the workers could each be awarded up to 90 days' pay. However, as Carillion is in liquidation, this would be paid by the Insolvency Service in the form of unpaid wages and would be capped at eight weeks and a maximum weekly amount of £489.
The union said that it did not know whether Carillion/PWC will seek to defend the claim, but suggested that it would be cheaper for the liquidators to settle quickly.
A spokesperson for the Official Receiver, who is responsible for Carillion’s liquidation, 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.”