Woolworths case referred to European Court

Usdaw brought the case on behalf of 3,233 ex-Woolworths (in liquidation) and 1,210 ex-Ethel Austin (in receivership) employees who all worked in stores employing less than 20 and who were not consulted about their redundancies. Usdaw’s argument is that the UK’s ’20 or more at one establishment’ rule does not properly implement the EU Collective Redundancies Directive.

This argument was accepted by an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), which held that the UK rules should be read without the words “at one establishment” so that they complied with the EU Directive. The UK government, which would be responsible for paying any award to the affected employees, has appealed the EAT’s decision in the High Court, which has in turn referred the case to the CJEU for a determination.

The UK government (the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) argued that the High Court proceedings should be put on hold pending the CJEU determination of the Northern Ireland ‘Bonmarche’ case. The background to the Bonmarche case is very similar to the Woolworths and Ethel Austin cases.

However, Bonmarche is still trading, so the case is against Bonmarche, whereas the Woolworths and Ethel Austin cases are against the UK government. Because of this crucial difference the UK government’s argument was rejected, and a CJEU determination is expected later this year.

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