Some of the workers had close to 40 years' service at the date of their dismissal, were all gardeners and landscape gardeners and were previously based at the various parks throughout Lambeth.
GMB then brought claims of 'unfair dismissal' claiming that the members had been unfairly selected for redundancy. The Croydon Employment Tribunal agreed that the claimants had been unfairly dismissed and said that the selection criteria used to select employees for redundancy were not fair. The tribunal also said that the results thrown up by Lambeth Serviceteam's selection criteria were arbitrary and not consistent with the company's internal policies or its stated aim of achieving a commitment to horticultural excellence. The tribunal also held that many of the claimants were not consulted prior to their dismissals and the company had not considered alternative employment.
The tribunal also found that Lambeth Serviceteam had discriminated against four of the claimants on the grounds of their disability saying that consultation with the individuals was inadequate, considering the disabilities in question. The tribunal also held that the company had breached its own equal opportunities procedures in applying the selection criteria by not taking into account disability.
Three of the four disability discrimination claims will result in substantial awards of compensation. In one case one of the highest compensations to be awarded, which will eventually be in six figures.
Richard Ascough, GMB regional secretary who lodged the claims on behalf of the workers said: 'I am delighted at this substantial victory for our members who have been very shoddily treated by their employer after many years of loyal service'.
GMB Lambeth branch secretary, Bill Modlock said: 'It was clear from the outset that management had no intention of consulting meaningfully with the workforce and GMB members were treated abysmally. It was regrettable that Serviceteam management ignored joint procedures especially as I made it clear from the first meeting that GMB would take proceedings if management continued to ignore our concerns and railroad through dismissals'.
The longest serving employee David Bray said: 'I was employed for 38 years. They took more from me than just a job - it was a way of life. I have been depressed ever since.'
The matter will now be listed for a separate remedies hearing (yet to be scheduled) although the tribunal has already ruled that many of the claimants should receive losses to retirement.
Statement from Serviceteam follows.
In late 2003 Lambeth Serviceteam bid on the grounds maintenance contracts which had changed in specification requiring significant redundancies. Whilst the company believed it was applying the appropriate process the tribunal found that it did not consult effectively and so the redundancies were deemed unfair and compensation awarded.
The company did offer all those people awarded compensation alternative full time employment within other Lambeth contracts both before and after the redundancies occurred.
What is clear from the tribunal result is that companies, their employees and unions need to work more effectively together to ensure fair outcomes for all concerned however the onus is clearly on the employer to ensure effective consultation.