A dozen Manchester-based property maintenance firm employees, who were left jobless due to a failed employment transfer, have received compensation payouts.

The staff, originally employed by Manchester Working Limited (MWL), secured almost £65,000 after their elected employee representative, Jane Deegan, brought claims for failure to inform and consult under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employees) Regulations (TUPE) at Manchester Employment Tribunal.

David Lewis
David Lewis

Ms Deegan’s claims, which were assisted by Unite the union, came 18 months after three of the 12 employees, who are members of the union, were also found to have been unfairly dismissed by MWL.

The employment dispute came off the back of a decision by Manchester City Council to re tender its public buildings maintenance and repair service – which at that time was provided by MWL. The bid was won by Engie Services Limited (now known as Equans Services Limited).

The 12 who brought an employment tribunal claim were part of a wider group of staff that MWL selected for transfer, while Engie asserted that the 12 were not in scope of the public buildings contract.

On 1 May 2019, the 12 workers were turned away from an induction for transferring employees hosted by Engie at the Etihad Stadium. The Engie management team insisted they were not in scope and that they should return to the MWL Manchester office.

However, when they did this, they were told by MWL they no longer worked for MWL – leaving them jobless, with no redundancy, notice or holiday pay.

David Lewis, a then 57-year-old electrician from Audenshaw, who had been employed by MWL for 33 years but was one of the 12 workers left unemployed, said:

“I still cannot really believe what happened. One day you’re getting ready for work as usual, and the next thing, within a couple of hours, your livelihood has been ripped apart before your eyes. MWL wanted nothing to do with us.”

With the help of Unite and social justice law firm Thompsons Solicitors, Mr Lewis initially secured compensation in May 2021 for unfair dismissal, along with notice and holiday compensation, and access to his local government pension on unreduced terms by reason of his redundancy. Now, he has since received further compensation – part of the total £65,000 for the 12 ‘displaced’ workers.

Mr Lewis added: “I often wonder why MWL didn’t just offer us redundancy – I can only assume they thought it would be cheaper and easier to kick us out the back door. Fortunately, as a trade union member, I knew what they’d done was wrong and that I’d have the full backing of Unite and the union’s legal specialists, which is exactly what happened.”

The settlement for each of the 12 displaced employees, paid by MWL, is nine weeks’ gross pay. Unite and Thompsons Solicitors argued that MWL had loaded the TUPE list to offload the workers to Engie – despite the new employer stating they were not in scope of the public buildings contract.

Engie also had to pay out the equivalent of four weeks’ gross pay to 45 other colleagues who were transferred but where the firm had notified Unite and Jane Deegan as the employee representative too late.

David and his 11 colleagues were left high and dry by MWL in their attempt to bypass well-established employment law.

Jamie Humphries, employment rights lawyer based at Thompsons’ Manchester office

Jamie Humphries, an employment rights lawyer based at Thompsons’ Manchester office, said: “In an age where employers are becoming more brazen in their attacks on workers’ rights, emboldened by a government that is actively seeking to erode and eliminate these hard-fought provisions, it is more important than ever that we and the trade union movement stand up for mistreated workers using the existing employment law.

“David and his 11 colleagues were left high and dry by MWL in their attempt to bypass well-established employment law. What ensued was a legal battle that will have inevitably cost MWL a lot more than if it had just followed the law in the first place.

Andrew Fisher, regional officer from Unite the union, added: “This is a clear example of how employers often try to avoid their legal obligations and responsibilities to their employees, by riding roughshod over individual’s employment rights simply to try to save money. It is often only trade unions who have the knowledge that such actions are unlawful and are able to advice and support employees in such claims, which shows the value of union membership. I have no doubt if they had not been members of Unite these employers may well have got away with this unlawful action at a great financial cost to our members.”