Sacked Unite members in Nortel Networks UK Limited (In Administration) in Monkstown and J& G Engineering (NI) Limited (In Liquidation) in Belfast were recently awarded the maximum 90 days award in two separate cases brought by the union represented by Thompsons McClure.

As both companies are insolvent, the employees involved will each receive eight weeks pay from the Department of Employment and Learning.

In the Nortel case, 37 members of Unite were made redundant. Nortel failed to comply with its legal obligation to consult with the union, so Unite brought a Protective Award claim.

Nortel’s administrators Ernst and Young argued for a minimal award rather than the 90 day maximum sought by the union. But the employment tribunal found that the administrators, Ernst & Young, had taken a deliberate decision not to consult with the union and that a maximum award was appropriate as there had been no effort whatsoever to comply with the statutory duty to consult the union.

The administrators argued that the failure to consult was justified because Nortel employees might take industrial action if the proposed redundancies were announced and this would damage the company.

This was rejected by the tribunal which stated: “It is not open to insolvency practitioners to ignore the requirements of the law on collective redundancy merely because these practitioners subjectively consider such non-compliance to be in the overall best interests of workers.”

Sean Smyth of Unite said: “This union is not prepared to see workers’ rights ignored. The gung-ho attitude of Ernst and Young to ride roughshod over Nortel employees who are facing a very difficult time is to be condemned.”

In the J & G Engineering case, the workforce of around 60 were all made redundant when the electrical contracting company closed down without any consultation. The tribunal upheld the union’s claim and awarded the maximum 90 day award finding that the company had taken “no steps at all to provide any consultation”.

Jackie Pollock of Unite said: “This goes to show what unions can do on behalf of their members when they pursue these types of cases”.

Commenting on these cases John O'Neill of Thompsons McClure, who acted as the union’s legal representative in both cases, said: “It is vital that unions pursue tribunal claims against employers who have failed in their legal obligation to consult with the unions. This will help to ensure proper consultation in similar situations in the future and may help to avoid or reduce the number of redundancies. It will also maximise the compensation received by employees who are made redundant without proper consultation”.