Anger as former Bo’ness Woolies’ workers miss out on compensation

FORMER employees of Woolworths’ Bo’ness store will miss out on compensation payable to thousands of staff in bigger shops.

This week they said the discrepancy was unfair. It is part of a £67.8 million tribunal award in which maximum payments, likely to be at manager level, could potentially be just over £3400 before deductions.

Former employees told the Bo’ness Journal they were doing exactly the same job as counterparts in larger stores, and that any compensation could have gone towards college expenses or a family holiday.

Sixteen employees lost their jobs when the North Street branch stopped trading just after Christmas in 2008 - along with all other stores in the nationwide chain.

The High Street giant had gone into administration but a buyer could not be found.

Now, over three years later, 24,000 former workers across Britain received letters last week saying they will get awards of 60 days’ contractual pay, capped at £400 a week, after a recent employment tribunal ruling.

But due to its interpretation of current UK law, staff who worked in stores with less than 20 employees are excluded - affecting around 3000 former workers.

Shopworkers’ trade union USDAW, who took the fight to the tribunal - and whose judgement affects all formerworkers, whether members or not - is taking legal advice with an appeal ‘‘highly likely’’. That could take several months.

Mum-of-two Laura Gardner who lost her supervisor’s post when the Bo’ness store closed, said this week: “I think if they are going to pay compensation, it should be everybody. We were doing the same work.”

She said: “The closure was just as hard on the smaller stores as it was on the big stores. It would be nice to know we can be thought of as well as the rest.”

Laura (33) was out of work for two years before being approached to manage the store which took over the vacant Woolies’ site.

Of a possible payment, she said: “It would be a huge difference, the way the country is now.

‘‘My daughter went away to college and that, for me, has cost huge amounts.”

Former colleague and mum-of-four Michelle Yeadon (34) also hit out, saying: “I was gobsmacked. We did exactly the same job. It makes me feel angry. Compensation would mean a family holiday with the children this year.”

Usdaw initially made the claim for its members after administrators Deloitt failed in their legal duty to consult with the union before making redundancies. It will be payable from National Insurance funds as Woolworths no longer exists.

John Gorle, of Usdaw said: “The fact that some of our members won’t be compensated simply because their store had less than 20 employees shows the injustice of the current legislation.

“Nearly 30,000 employees were made redundant from Woolworths at the same time and for the same reason, so to suggest 3000 of them didn’t constitute a collective redundancy is a nonsense.”

Bo’ness MP Michael Connarty said he would be supporting the position of the workers and the union, and backing a Parliamentary motion to clarify and if necessary, change the law.

He said: “You don’t sign up to work for the store, you sign up to work for the company.”

Richard Lyle, Central Scotland SNP MSP, who has set up a Holyrood e-petition, lodged a Scottish Parliament motion calling for payout equality.