The County You Live, Work And Play
A former Woolworths worker told of her anger at losing out on compensation – despite 16 years’ service for the store all over Scotland.
Sharon Wells was one of up to 1000 Scots who have been robbed of redundancy compensation after a landmark case saw their union WIN £68million worth of payouts.
About 27,000 former Woolworths workers will get a Government payout after administrators called in to handle the firm’s closure failed to hold proper consultations.
But more than 3200 UK workers will miss out because of a rule designed to protect small firms, which says any store with 20 or less staff doesn’t constitute a mass redundancy.
MSP Richard Lyle vowed to overturn the rule after branding the move “robbery on a Farepak scale”.
“There are two other former Woolworths workers in my street in East Kilbride. They’ll get the compensation while I won’t. I take nothing away from them because they deserve it but where is the justice?”
Ray Mitchell, 62, who worked for Woolworths for 28 years, has lost more than £1600.
She said: “It is a double slap in the face for us. My husband Andrew was made redundant just months after Woolworths closed.
“We should have £1600 but instead we’ve just been slapped in the face again.
“We are despairing about this.”
Scots workers are being unfairly penalised because many Woolworths outlets here had less than 20 staff.
Shop workers’ trade union Usdaw won their case at a tribunal, triggering the compensation payouts.
But the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act (1992) will deprive many ex-Woolworths employees of their right to compensation because the store where they worked had too few workers.
It means about a third of all Scots former Woolworths staff have lost out, while the proportion in England and Wales is around one in 13. All ex-employees in Northern Ireland qualify for the compensation.
Central Scotland SNP MSP Lyle branded the move “outrageous” and called on the government for a rethink. And he began a Holyrood petition, even though the issue isn’t devolved to Scotland.
Lyle said: “There’s no way I can stand by and watch this happen. These workers gave years of service to Woolworths and are just as entitled to compensation as their colleagues.
“Is this what we are to expect in this country? It is nowhere near good enough and something needs to be done.
“This is robbery on a Farepak scale and I’m starting a campaign to get this overturned.”
Woolworths went bust in November 2008 and all the shops, offices and warehouses shut by January 2009.
Usdaw made a “protective award” claim for staff, through the Redundancy Payments Office, after the administrator failed to consult the union before making redundancies.
The tribunal awarded Usdaw members 60 days’ pay, capped at £400 gross pay a week, which is the maximum amount payable.
The taxpayer will pick up the tab for compensation as Woolworths were in administration when the redundancies were made.
However, workers employed in smaller stores won’t be eligible for the payout because of a legal precedent recognised by the tribunal.
A similar case involving workers made redundant when clothing chain Ethel Austin went into administration in 2010 did not award compensation to people who worked in premises where less than 20 redundancies were made.
The union said they plan to appeal the decision. Usdaw national officer John Gorle said: “I’m bitterly disappointed. The fact some members won’t be compensated simply because their store had less than 20 employees is just plain wrong.”
Usdaw general secretary John Hannett added: “The UK’sinterpretation of the law is unfair and possibly a breach of the European Directive.”
History to the story about bellshill woolworths
Sharon, ex-Woolies store manager in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, has lost out on £2800 compensation.
She also worked at stores in Dingwall, Fort William, Fraserburgh, Oban, Hamilton, Coatbridge and Motherwell. She said: “This is a crazy law. I can understand a rule to protect a small business which goes to the wall, but no one can argue that Woolworths was a small business.
“It feels like discrimination. Scots workers have been hit disproportionately hard because a higher proportion of Woolworths stores here tended to be smaller branches.
“Fort William had 17 workers, Dingwall 15 and Bellshill 17. For the sake of two or three extra workers we’re missing out on thousands of pounds.