UK workers may lose right to be consulted over redundancy plans, warns union

UK employees may lose the right to be consulted about redundancies if the US Government is successful in its appeal against a tribunal decision to award compensation for a failure to consult, the GMB union has warned.

The warning came after the Court of Appeal yesterday asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify whether European law requires employers to consult with employees before or after deciding to make employees redundant.

This arose from an appeal by the US Government over an employment tribunal decision to award Christine Nolan 30 days’ pay over the failure to consult when the US army base in Southampton was closed in 2006 with the loss of 200 civilian jobs.

Nolan was awarded £3,000. An award of between £2,000 and £4,000 for the other 200 employees would have followed, with overall compensation reaching around £600,000.

This decision was upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal, but the US appealed to the Court of Appeal, citing the case of Akavan Erityisalojen Keskusliitto AEK ry and others v Fujitsu Siemens Computer Oy.

The Court of Appeal said it did not find the interpretation of the ECJ’s decision in the Finnish Fujitsu case on the question straightforward and asked the ECJ to clarify.

“Putting in stark form the question arising in the present case, does the ECJ explain whether the consultation obligation arises (i) when the employer is proposing, but has not yet made, a strategic business or operational decision that will foreseeably or inevitably lead to collective redundancies; or (ii) only when that decision has actually been made and he is then proposing consequential redundancies?” it said.

Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, described what has happened since the 2006 award to Nolan as “a farce by professionals acting for the US Government abusing and wasting taxpayers’ money on both sides of the Atlantic”.

“The money spent on legal fees is bad enough,” he said. “If the US Government had consulted before the decision was made they could have stopped US taxpayers being charged double for the same work to be done in Japan and Kuwait.

“We now face the spectre of the use of US taxpayers’ money resulting in EU law diluting UK workers employment rights,” Kenny added. “UK workers may no longer have the right to be consulted on the reasons why they are to be made redundant, which will be outrageous.”

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