European Court fight ends in defeat for Woolworths staff » SMEInsider

European Court fight ends in defeat for Woolworths staff

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Over 3200 staff of former high street chain Woolworths have failed in their attempts to receive compensation, marking the end of a seven-year legal battle.

The verdict was made at the European court of justice (ECJ), which also stopped 1200 former staff of clothing retailer Ethel Austin from receiving any redundancy fees.

The staff missed out on compensation under very cruel circumstances. According to UK law, stores with 20 employees or less become excluded from receiving compensation. In 2012, a majority of Woolworth staff received 60 days’ worth of compensation from an insolvency firm.

‘‘This decision marks the end of the road for our members from Woolworths and Ethel Austin seeking justice,’’ stated John Hannett, general secretary of the Union of Shop, distributive and allied workers union (USDAW).

The ruling marks the end of USDAW’s relationship with the inconsolable Woolworths staff, who have been supported by the union since Woolworths collapsed in 2008. The retail firm still exists online, but its former clothing partner Ethel Austin disintegrated after going into administration in 2010.

‘‘Our case is morally and logically robust, so today’s verdict is a kick in the teeth. It is unfair and makes no sense that workers in stores of less than 20 employees were denied compensation, whereas their colleagues in larger stores did qualify for the award,’’ continued Hannet.

The court’s decision has already sparked outrage within UK politics. Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has criticised the ECJ’s handling of the situation.

‘‘The fact that ministers were not only happy to watch this unfairness happen but at the European court of justice acted to stop the employees being compensated in this situation is scandalous and tells you all you need to know about their attitude to people’s rights at work,’’ said Umunna.