Employment Lawyers say Government Must Hold British Businesses to Account Over Failure to Protect Employees

March 2022

 

Staff have ‘every right’ to challenge ferry operator over way job losses were managed.


The Government must ‘bare its teeth’ when holding British businesses accountable over a failure to protect employees, lawyers have said.

The call to action comes following news that around 800 staff at P&O Ferries had been made redundant with immediate effect, after the travel company controversially docked all of its ships at ports across the UK yesterday.

However, in doing so lawyer Anita North, Head of Employment Law at Simpson Millar Solicitors, said the company had ‘fundamentally failed’ in its duty to consult with employees about the job losses.

“P&O is the latest big business to announce redundancies with immediate effect, and while the details and specifics are yet to be made public the consequences for its employees will no doubt be devastating.

By law, where an employer decides to make at least 20 employees redundant at a location within a 90 day period, it must consult with the affected employees, via employee representatives.

The consultation must be meaningful, in that the employer must give sufficient information to the affected employees, enabling them to express their views and put forward ideas to avoid or otherwise limit the redundancies.

In cases where over 100 redundancies are proposed, the period of consultation must last at least 45 days before any dismissals take place and should be undertaken by the employer with a view to seeking agreement with the employee representatives.

However, over the last year or so we have seen dozens of companies collapse into administration, giving their staff barely, if any, notice of what’s about to happen. In cases such as that they have fundamentally failed in their duty to consult.

While many employees will be very grateful that they can go on to claim for a Protective Award, they also no doubt want to know what is being done to hold these businesses to account over their blatant disregard of the law.

Instead of simply picking up the pieces when the damage has been done, the Government needs to do more to bare its teeth when it comes to punishing major, previously profitable businesses who have failed to protect their employees.” - Anita North, National Head of Employment, Simpson Millar 

Anita went on to say that the hundreds of staff affected could take legal action against the company over its failure to properly consult by making a claim for a Protective Award.

“In defending a claim for a protective award, it has been established that employers cannot neglect their duty to consult just because they do not feel that consultation will not achieve anything.

The travel industry has undoubtedly been one of the hardest hit as a result of the pandemic.

The global restrictions imposed on international, non-essential travel have been devastating, and have resulted in job losses both on land and at sea.

Sadly, it would appear that P&O is the latest to fall victim to these challenges, with reports suggesting that around 800 members of staff have been made redundant as a result of difficult trading conditions.

However, if they have failed to protect employees properly, then staff have every right to challenge the way the job losses were managed, and to hold the business to account.

It is unfortunate that we are still seeing employers dismissing employees without the requisite notice, and without any real consequence.

Where an employer cannot pay a protective award, the responsibility for payment falls to the National Insurance Fund. Whilst this is necessary to afford employees’ certainty that they will receive a payment, there should be more accountability on employers who fail to give sufficient warning of business failures which could affect their employees.” - Anita North, National Head of Employment, Simpson Millar 

Anita added that while many people would assume that the company would not have to follow the correct employment procedures because it had gone into administration, it does still have a duty of care to their staff under current employment law legislation.  

Simpson Millar’s leading Employment Law team is currently instructed by thousands of former employees affected by the collapse of a number of well-known businesses operating in the retail, energy, professional services and travel sectors, including hundreds of people made redundant by Thomas Cook and Fly BMI.   

The firm also has a Travel Law team which specialises in helping people who have suffered an injury or illness abroad as a result of poor health, safety and hygiene measures.

"When people are made redundant the first thing they normally do is look for another job, but in the current climate competition for each role in the travel industry is significant.   

This is causing additional worry, especially because the rising costs of living means that people are having to prioritise taking measures like applying for universal credit and mortgage holidays in order to be able to survive financially. 

While the process to claim for a Protective Award will not result in an influx of cash immediately, legal protection remains in place to support people who are made redundant without being taken through the correct consultation process, and the money recovered in successful claims will provide some longer-term security for those affected.”   - Anita North, National Head of Employment, Simpson Millar 

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