A group of Polish workers in the food processing industry have won an important victory at an employment rights tribunal, which said they should be considered employees rather than self-employed. The workers are members of the T&G section of the recently merged Unite union which originally brought the case in 2005.
The case will have important implications for thousands of agency workers and the agencies who employ them, some of which evade holiday pay, sick pay or pension rights by classing their workers as self-employed. The judgement was made after Consistent had appealed against the original Employment Appeals Tribunal decision.
The workers, who worked at Welsh Country Foods in Winsford in Cheshire, were evicted from their accommodation following dismissal. The ruling enables Unite to take the workers’ case to the next stage to claim for unfair dismissal and victimisation of trade union activities. The group of Polish workers had recently become organised into the union, as part of the drive to organise workers throughout the food processing industry.
In a damning indictment of the behaviour of the agency concerned, the tribunal chairman summarised the case:
“I noted the frequency with which the first respondents in the documents sought to emphasize the absence of rights – holiday pay, fringe benefits, the right to complain of unfair dismissal. These were their real concern. They in practice retained a firm measure of effective control over the claimants’ working lives. They told them when and where they had to work, they might deny them days off, they provided them with transport and accommodation (taken away, as it proved, without notice).”
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said:
“The case highlights the ‘race to the bottom’ on wages and conditions in Britain’s workplaces that is allowing unscrupulous employers to take advantage of the worst aspects of the flexible labour market. Employment agencies and government should take heed from this case and act now to end further abuses.”