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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Workplace wars: Redundancy and redress
Employment Agency
A quarter of tribunal applicants are jobless afterwards
The number of complaints taken to employment tribunals has trebled in the last decade. So how well does the grievance system serve workers who decide to fight for their jobs?

In a BBC Radio 4 investigation - 'Rochdale, Redundancy and Redress' - Liz Carney examines conflict in the workplace through the case files of a Greater Manchester law centre.

Rochdale is a town which has lost many jobs through the decline of the big textile companies. Its employment opportunities are now increasingly found in small service and leisure businesses.

Like the rest of the UK, Rochdale has also seen a steady growth in the number of complaints being taken to employment tribunals - the courtroom-like mechanism for dealing with workplace disputes.

Steve Hynes, a specialist employment adviser at Rochdale Law Centre, said: "It's the classic town where you have a lot of small to medium employers that unfortunately disproportionately end up in employment tribunals.

Steven Hynes
Steven Hynes represents those with workplace grievances
"It's primarily because they don't have good industrial relations procedures and they often don't have unions within the workplace."

Mr Hynes represents workers who feel they have been discriminated against or unfairly dismissed.

His landmark case was that of accountant Carole Coe who won 40,000 when it was successfully argued her company had wrongly denied her maternity rights.


I picked up the telephone directory and hunted to find anyone who could help me

Carole Coe
Ms Coe had been earning 23,000 a year at snack food firm TG Snacks Ltd for nearly 12 months when she became pregnant and was diagnosed with cervical cancer. After the birth of her daughter, she went to see her managing director to discuss her treatment plan.

"I left my sick note with him and he said to me: 'I really hope everything goes well Carole and we will see you in six months' time.

"After successful chemotherapy treatment, I was discharged. I took my little girl home, I opened the door and we found a letter from my employer with my P45 inside.

"The letter explained that the fact I had not returned to work following my maternity leave resulted in my employment being terminated and the company 'wished me well for the future'.

Life insurance scrapped

"I was in disbelief, in shock. I picked up the telephone directory and hunted to find anyone who could help me."

Two years after she lodged her claim through the Rochdale Law Centre, Ms Coe was compensated not only for her loss of earnings, but for injury to her feelings.

But the tribunal did not compensate her for the loss of a crucial part of her employment package - a life insurance policy, worth 80,000.

Ms Coe said: "The moment that TG Snacks terminated my employment, my life insurance was null and void. They could have transferred it to me but they didn't.

"After being diagnosed with a terminal illness I have not been able to find any insurance company that will take me on."

No 'compensation culture'

TG snacks was later closed down by its parent company, which was then bought out by another firm. They said they had no direct knowledge of Ms Coe's case.


Often the loss of a job just cannot be compensated for by what someone might gain from a tribunal or negotiated settlement

Steve Hynes
Six years on, the repercussions are still huge - without life insurance Ms Coe cannot get a mortgage and has difficulty getting loans. Furthermore - like nearly a quarter of those who go to a hearing - she found herself unemployed at the end of the case.

"I was approaching agency after agency. I'd go through the application process, I'd go through interviews, but there'd be no follow up.

"It is much easier for them to place someone without a history, without any issues that it's not in their interest to take on."

As the number of applications to tribunals soar, Mr Hynes argues that for people coming through the modest doors of the Rochdale Law Centre, the reality of redress is far from the popular "compensation culture" myth.

"Often the loss of a job just cannot compensated for by what someone might gain from a tribunal or negotiated settlement.

"When the employment tribunal was set up it was envisaged by the government that there would be many more reinstatements and re-engagements.

"It was thought the relatively informal procedures of the employment tribunal would facilitate that, but it's not actually happened."

The BBC Radio 4 investigation, Rochdale, Redundancy and Redress will be broadcast at 2000 BST on Monday 10 June.

Workplace woes

Women and equal pay

Older people

Race

Disability

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See also:

25 Oct 01 | Business
05 Sep 01 | UK Politics
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