In a relatively rare occurrence a UVW union member has been reinstated after making an interim relief application and an employment tribunal ruled it was likely that his claim would succeed.
When an employee is dismissed then a tribunal can order (but not enforce) an employer reinstates the employee to the post they were dismissed from. Although this was envisaged as the principle remedy in an unfair dismissal case such orders are extremely rare with statistics indicating such orders are made only one in every two thousand unfair dismissal cases. One factor explaining this is that it take take so long after a dismissal before a unfair dismissal case is heard, sometimes years after the event.
However, in a few categories of case an employee can apply for interim relief which basically an employee his reinstated and continues to receive full salary until a final decision of the employment tribunal is reached. Unfortunately this only applies to a few categories of case (the most prominent being where there is an allegation an employee was dismissed for trade union activities or for blowing the whistle). This leaves some major gaps – for example, an employee who refused to work in unsafe conditions and was dismissed (very relevant in the current circumstances) or a worker who was dismissed because of their race has no such option. However, even though the circumstances are limited an order is not an easy one to make as an employee must with very short notice and without all the evidence being available show they a likely to be successful in their claim.
So what was the case?
Alejandro Morales was (and is – kind of still!) an employee of Premier Foods and is a member of the UVW Union. As a result (or rather, in order to capitalise on) the coronavirus crisis the company informed workers that it would be unilaterally cutting the salaries of workers by 25%. Given this was at a time the company’s sales were surging this is particularly callous. Not surprisingly, Alejandro Morales was unhappy with this and sought the assistance of his union in raising a grievance about the decision. In the grievance he also complained about the lack of PPE and unsafe working conditions.
Mr Morales explains that shortly after this ” “when I was dismissed, I was on my break at 5am. I was called in for a meeting, they handed me a letter and dismissed me on the spot. No formalities, no trade union representation, nothing.”
At the same time the company chairman called a staff meeting but expressly did not include Mr Morales and spoke about his grievance saying (it was caught on a audio recording):
“One particular person in the firm has decided to go to a union…This one person isn’t obviously backing the company…We’ve got enough things on our plate without that person now side-tracking me having to deal with that situation…I am extremely disappointed and upset over this one person. Because not only has he given me a problem, but he’s given everyone else in this company a problem as well…One of the things he bought up was obviously the 2-meter distancing which [background laughter] and wearing masks…you can all probably guess which person it is because he’s obviously not stood in the office at this moment in time.”
And, with that evidence, the employment judge found that it was likely that it was the decision of Mr Morales to access the services of his trade union (help with a grievance) that was a strong motivating factor for Premier Food’s dismissal.
It is of course shocking that a multi-million pound company should so brazenly disregard the rights of workers and, if nothing else, the publication should be ample incentive for all other Premier Food workers they should not expect fair treatment and as Alejandro says “you must seek trade union advice. You need the help. Don’t just allow yourself to be abused by an employer, it is not good. You need a trade union to support and guide you.”
If the case proceeds to a full hearing I will post a write up of that decision too, employers like Premier Foods who abuse their workforce deserve to face scrutiny for doing so.
Excellent work by UVW!