UNISON, the UK’s largest public sector union, has secured a landmark victory in what is believed to be the first age discrimination case to go before an Employment Tribunal.

Ann Southcott (66), a clerical worker in the therapy department at Treliske Hospital in Truro, was dismissed from her work on 30 September 2006 - the last day before the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 came into force. UNISON instructed Thompsons to represent her.

Being sacked at that time meant that instead of being entitled to 11 months’ pay (one for each year of her service) – she received just 11 weeks pay instead.

As a result of the claim the Trust has agreed to re-instate Mrs Southcott with back pay from October and with no loss of service.  

Mike Jackson, UNISON Senior National Officer for Health, said:

"This is a fair and just outcome to a sorry chapter in the hospital’s history.  There is no doubt that the decision to dismiss Ann Southcott was fuelled by the debt crisis at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust.  

"However, the appointment of John Watkinson, the new chief executive, in January this year signalled a positive change in direction and has led to a partnership approach between management, staff and unions.  A new policy on age discrimination has been agreed with the Trust and Ann is now able to return to the hospital to a job she clearly did well and enjoyed.

"I hope this decision will give new heart to other people who have lost their jobs because of their age."

Mrs Southcott said: "I’m delighted with this result as I was clearly discriminated against on the grounds of my age which was grossly unfair.   I cannot afford to give up work at this time and why should I when I was doing a job I loved.   I am looking forward to the challenge of my new job back in the therapies department.

"The Trust publicly announced that it was dismissing employees like me to avoid the implications of the age regulations.  I simply received my 11 weeks contractual notice pay, issued with absolute precision, to expire on the last working day of September 2006.  If I had been dismissed on or after 1st October 2006, I would have received 11 months pay."

As a result of a £32m overspend the Trust announced a review of the therapy department where Ann Southcott worked and around 30 health workers, all over 65, were given notice in May to run out 29th September, 1 day short of new legislation.  UNISON immediately lodged the case with the Employment Tribunal.  The new chief executive has since agreed to reinstate Ann and the other health workers dismissed on age grounds.

Mrs Southcott is to return to work in the therapies department at the Treliske Hospital in Truro.  Her new post includes some line management of receptionists, and the Trust has agreed to provide any necessary training to enable her to carry out her duties. They have met with her in this week to discuss the detail her role, and will review her employment on or after 1st April 2008 in line with service developments.

According to research from Age Concern, conducted in autumn 2005 in partnership with the University of Kent, more people (29%) reported suffering age discrimination than any other form of discrimination.  Other findings were as follows:

  • From age 55 onwards, people were nearly twice as likely to have experienced age prejudice than any other form of discrimination
  • Nearly 30% of people believed there is more prejudice against the old than five years ago, and that this will continue to get worse
  • One third of people thought that the demographic shift towards an older society would make life worse in terms of standards of living, security, health, jobs and education