Page last updated at 18:03 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 19:03 UK

Sacked bookshop staff win payout

Workers at a Christian bookshop chain have won a "substantial" payout after being sacked, many by e-mail, by the company's new owners, a union has said.

The 32 staff were employed by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), which took over SPCK's shops.

The shop workers' union Usdaw said SSG broke UK employment laws by trying to force staff to sign new contracts and then sacking them last year.

It said its legal team fought the "complex" case to get all money owed.

Usdaw lodged claims with the employment tribunal for all 32 workers, who were based in Norwich, Cambridge, Lincoln, Sheffield, Worcester, Carlisle, Chester, Exeter, Newcastle and York.

One worker, based at Worcester, died during proceedings, with Usdaw pursuing his payout on behalf of his widow.

'Longer hours'

The union said SSG, controlled by American brothers Mark and Philip Brewer, tried to get staff to sign new contracts with longer hours, fewer holidays and poorer pension rights, after it took over the shops in 2006.

Workers were then dismissed between February and June last year, many via e-mail from the United States. Others heard the news from their colleagues, Usdaw said.

At the shop where I worked the staff had a total of more than 100 years' service between us
Heather Leather, former employee

The Charity Commission set up an interim manager for SSG after Mark Brewer said he could not attend an employment tribunal hearing in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk in May.

Settlement negotiations then began, with Usdaw consulting with its members on the offer put forward.

Heather Leather, one of the sacked workers, said: "At the shop where I worked the staff had a total of more than 100 years' service between us.

"We simply didn't know what was happening when the Brewers started all this, and we never expected to be treated this way when we had done nothing wrong."

Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said he was delighted that workers had finally won compensation and that the union was "proud" to be able to help them.

The exact payout, which includes wages owed when the workers were dismissed, is subject to a confidentiality clause.

Mark Brewer told the BBC he was unaware of the extent of the payout and that details of the negotiations had not been disclosed to SSG.

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