Job-cut legal battle in store for Sainsbury’s

Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s is facing a string of tribunal cases following
its redundancy programme last year.

Lawyers representing aggrieved former staff say the UK’s second largest
supermarket chain is facing up to 100 cases nationwide. They claim the company
did not follow proper procedures.

The company shed about 1,100 managers last May as a part of its Customer
First Management programme which aimed to put more staff on the front-line
dealing with customers.

Robinson King employment law specialist David Royden, who is representing 14
former Sainsbury’s staff at tribunals in Liverpool and Manchester, claimed the
company failed to consult with staff about the redundancies.

"It is inconceivable that a company with the administrative resources
of Sainsbury’s would be unaware of its legal obligations. Yet all the employees
I have spoken to say they were dismissed without warning."

Current redundancy legislation requires employers to enter both collective
and individual consultation where there are more than 20 redundancies.

Elaine Clarke, a practising personnel director representing one of the
tribunal applicants who is a family member, attacked Sainsbury’s handling of
the job cuts.

"I am absolutely appalled at the manner in which Sainsbury’s has dealt
with long-standing members of staff who have been caught up in this."

An internal company memo about the staff cuts, leaked to Personnel Today,
suggested a policy of "redundancy by sniper’s bullet" that would
allow senior management control over the selection of staff that would go.

But Sainsbury’s defended its approach. A spokeswoman said there had been
proper consultation with staff during the wave of redundancies and added that
in the first completed tribunal case, heard in Exeter, the company had won. She
admitted that some cases had been settled before going to tribunal but would
not disclose the number of cases or the sums involved.

She said the policy behind the cuts was to get more staff on the shop floor.
Sainsbury’s could not confirm the total number of tribunal cases it faces.

By Tom Powdrill

Redundancy: what the law says

The reasons for the redundancies must be genuine, and must be set out
to the staff in a factual way.

• It is permissible to seek redundancies due to competitive pressures, when
there is no imminent threat to the business, but there has to be a demonstrable
need to make savings.

Selection criteria for redundancy should be objective and fairly
applied. Moreover, there must be prior consultation. Criteria normally taken
into account include:

• Absence record

• Disciplinary record

• Skills and experience

• Ability to redistribute the work

• Last-in, first-out principle (going out of favour as it can be discriminatory)

Consultation must be at both a collective and individual level when
there are more than 20 redundancies.

• There must be a consultation with the entire workforce, not just those
affected by the redundancy.

• The collective consultation must be with the trade union where it is

• The seniority of the people involved does not affect the above

With thanks to Ruth Harvey of law firm Sheridans

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