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NUJ wins claims for Press Association staff

20 October 2014

Two NUJ members working at the Press Association who were left with nothing when their jobs transferred to another company in France have successfully settled their claims.

Clare Hoppett, a deputy team leader at PA's Howden centre in East Yorkshire, and her colleague Kath Haigh, who worked as a listings producer remotely from home, concluded their cases shortly before a full Employment Tribunal hearing. Both reached agreement with PM81, the company that took the contract for Mirror Group Newspaper TV listings from PA.

The pair were part of a team of nine at the site whose jobs were put at risk in November 2012 when PA announced to affected staff that it had lost the contract to PM81, a sub-editing contractor based in Castres in France.

During the consultation process undertaken by PA, a number of staff were redeployed into other jobs, but some were left high and dry when PM81 refused to accept there had been a business transfer covered by Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) 2006 legislation.

When the day of the transfer arrived, on 27 January, 2013, those staff not redeployed – including Kath Haigh and Clare Hoppett, who had worked for PA for 15 and 10 years respectively – were left with no job, no redundancy compensation, no payment of notice. The did not even get a reference to look for a new job.

As PA does not recognise the NUJ, the union was prevented by the company from representing its members in collective consultation meetings to seek as fair an outcome for those at risk as possible.

However, as individual members, Clare Hoppett and Kath Haigh received extensive assistance from the union through the consultation process and then successful detailed legal advice from the NUJ's solicitors, Thompsons, when it became clear their jobs were to just disappear with no compensation.

While PA maintained that a business transfer under TUPE had taken place, PM81 denied this and refused to admit any responsibility for those whose jobs had been taken away.

PM81 contested this until January this year when an employment tribunal preliminary hearing in Sheffield ruled that a business transfer had indeed taken place. Under TUPE, employees whose jobs transfer but they are not then required by the new operator are able to claim a redundancy payment.

A potential additional claim for compensation that the NUJ wanted to take under TUPE for lack of consultation was frustrated as a non-union staff rep refused to co-operate in helping NUJ members with this case.

However, both NUJ members reached an agreement over their lost jobs without having to pay any legal or tribunal costs as their case was taken up by the union. Currently, there is a £250 charge for making a claim to an employment tribunal and further £950 if the matter goes to a hearing.

Clare Hoppett said:

"I cannot stress enough the importance of being a member of a union in your workplace, especially in the rapidly changing media industry. It is not about being disloyal to your employer, as some may be lead to believe, but to protect yourself and your family should the worst happen. What would you do if you were left with no job and no redundancy pay, yet had a mortgage to pay and family to support?

"This is what happened to me, and it is only because of the union that I was able to persevere and pursue this case, and after 21 long months have finally had a positive result. It's been tough, but it has been worth it, I can't thank the NUJ enough for the help and support they have given me.

"This situation has also taught me a valuable lesson to never take anything for granted and always join an employment union, after all what is a few pounds a month compared to being left with nothing and no one to help guide you? A union can also help with many other issues or concerns you may have and being a member is worth its weight in gold. Can you afford not to?"

Kath Haigh said:

"To say I was stunned the day I got a phone call from PA to tell me my job had been transferred to a company in France was a huge understatement. I assumed, like so many people, that as I had worked for the same employer for over 15 years and my employment was terminated, I would be protected by my employer, and they would offer a comprehensive redundancy package, helpful advice and support.

"How wrong I was, I had none of this and I felt devastated. I had no job, no money and no reference. I would urge other PA employees to join the union as without sound advice from Chris Morley at the NUJ we really would have been out on a limb. He and Neil Todd from Thomsons worked tirelessly on our behalf to achieve a satisfactory outcome after months of despair and my gratitude for their help is unbounded."

Chris Morley, NUJ northern & midlands organiser, said:

"These were important cases for the union as the type of situation that brought it about could happen at any time to workers at PA and elsewhere if contracts are lost and jobs transfer.

"We will pursue with vigour those employers who would avoid their legal responsibilities and potentially leave our members with nothing when work transfers.

"The limitations of the law around consultation were also exposed by this example where employees were excluded from collective representation because the union is blocked by not being recognised. I would urge all PA employees to consider this and to join the NUJ if they are not already members."

Tags: , employment tribunal, thompsons solicitors, press association, tupe, redundancies, pm81, news agencies