In a case being heard today at Stratford employment tribunal in London, more than 140 employees made redundant from Yardley's Basildon factory last year will claim pounds 1.5m for redundancy and unfair dismissal.
Employment lawyers believe this may be the biggest such claim brought by workers not represented by a union. The Yardley employees are also expected to be among the first of many group actions in which workers represent themselves against employers. Employment laws coming into force later this year encourage workers to form non-unionised collective bargaining groups, which lawyers say will lead to more non- unionised legal actions.
After October, employment tribunals will also be able to award up to pounds 50,000 for unfair dismissal instead pounds 12,000. Lawyers predict a spate of redundancies in an attempt to beat next month's deadline for unfair dismissal claims.
Last year Yardley called in the receivers after running up debts of pounds 120m. The Yardley brand and some of its assets have since been acquired by German company Wella.
Fladgate Fielder, the lawyers acting for the workers, will claim that under the Transfer of Undertakings (The Protection of Employment) regulations the workers should be compensated for the loss of their jobs. At the time of the acquisition the Basildon jobs were thought to be safe, but later about 400 workers were made redundant.
James Davies, head of employment at City law firm Lewis Silkin, said the case marked the start of a trend involving collective action. He said: "This is a reflection of the greater perception of... collective rights and a reflection of workers' power."Reuse content