Female staff miss utility pay-outs

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The Independent Online
Thousands of women have missed out on lump sums of up to pounds 44,000 each after failing to claim compensation for forced early retirement.

The public service union Unison yesterday announced it had won a total pounds 1.4m pay-out for 55 women who were made to retire at 60 by the former nationalised electricity boards.

Despite an advertising campaign, however, many more are known to have slipped through the net and are no longer able to claim compensation because their cases are "out of time".

The women were employed by 13 electricity companies throughout the United Kingdom and were forced to retire five years earlier than male colleagues doing similar jobs. The 55 are to receive between pounds 12,500 and pounds 44,000 each depending on their salary at the time they were retired.

All the applicants are now over 70 and expressed their delight at the windfall. Some have gone on holiday. Three have since died, one with no surviving relations left all her money to the Save the Children Fund. The women's case was based on a judgement by the European Court of Justice in 1991 involving a British Gas worker.

The court ruled that the privatised gas company was "an emanation of the state" because it carried out public duties and therefore came under strict European equality laws. Unions are still taking advantage of the ruling and attempting to ensure that privatised businesses are brought under Brussels directives.

After favourable tribunal rulings, the Electricity Association offered to settle the 55 cases out of court.

Meanwhile Mike Jeram, head of the new energy section of Unison, calculated that nearly 100,000 jobs had been lost in the gas and electricity industries since privatisation.

Mr Jeram said 60,000 had gone in the electricity industry since 1990 and 43,000 in British Gas - just over one in two of the workforce. He acknowledged deterioration in service of British Gas and concerns over the power grid's ability to meet demands were a direct result of mass redundancies.

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