Workers in search of a watertight case

The plight of a group of Swan Hunter workers from Tyneside, made redundant in the wake of the shipbuilding firm getting into difficulty, will be considered by the Law Lords.

The case will focus on important points concerning the level of consultation necessary between employers and unions in the run-up to redundancy.

The Swan Hunter workers were made redundant by the firm after it went into administrative receivership in 1992, and have been involved in a legal battle over the way they were treated ever since.

Now Lords Browne-Wilkinson, Lloyd and Steyn have given leave for them to challenge a ruling by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Oct- ober 1995, and the Court of Appeal on 30 September last year, that they were not treated unfairly.

The men at the centre of the case were all dismissed on the basis of redundancy. But they claimed their dismissals were unfair. They argued that they were made without consultation between Swan Hunter and the trade unions required under section 189 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

In 1993, they took their case to the Newcastle Industrial Tribunal and on 21 September 1993 won a ruling that there had been failure to consult properly and that, as a result, they were entitled to protective awards in respect of what happened. Following this, the men applied to the Secretary of State for Employment under the provisions of section 122 of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 for payment of the sums that were awarded.

However, the Employment Secretary took the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and succeeded in overturning the industrial tribunal finding.