Redundant dinner ladies seek payouts

DINNER ladies who lost their jobs when hot school meals were scrapped in Essex are filing claims for over £1 million in compensation.And lawyers are citing Essex County Council, schools and catering companies as the dinner ladies pursue their claims for redundancy and pension settlements which are so big they may need to go to the High Court.

DINNER ladies who lost their jobs when hot school meals were scrapped in Essex are filing claims for over £1 million in compensation.

And lawyers are citing Essex County Council, schools and catering companies as the dinner ladies pursue their claims for redundancy and pension settlements which are so big they may need to go to the High Court.

The legal action comes after Essex County Council axed its centralised school meals service in April last year.

A group of 20 catering staff, who were employed by international catering company Scolarest on contract to Essex County Council, are making claims for redundancy settlements, holiday and lieu of notice pay and pensions.


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When the women were made redundant, Scolarest, which provided school meals in north Essex, and Essex County Council denied responsibility for them.

Trade union UNISON took up their case and have advised the women to pursue their claims at an industrial tribunal.

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Following legal advice, they are making claims against Essex County Council, Scolarest, schools and catering companies which took over from Scolarest.

The case is complicated due to employment law Transfer of Undertakings legislation (TUPE) which shifts employees rights when their employers change while they are still doing the same job.

The industrial tribunal was due to be heard last month, but because it has become so big, involving 20 employers, it is now unlikely to take place until possibly next autumn.

Michelle Bradley, Unison regional officer, said the claims are likely to be “in excess of a million pounds”. Pension claims are so big, the union's lawyers have said the case is likely to go to High Court.

“School meals in Essex are still in a big mess and the consequences of the county council's decision are still being felt by these women. They're still out of pocket, some are still out of a job and having to fight for what's rightfully theirs.”

Sandra Ivatt, of Bures, was a regional manager for Scolarest, with responsibility for 60 schools across Essex.

She claims he is owed at least £20,000 in redundancy pay alone. Scolarest offered her £6,000, but she refused it.

Yesterday she said she was “a bit cross” about the length of time it is taking to settle the case.

“What we thought would be settled earlier this year and then by Christmas has been put off indefinitely.”

She added: “They still owe us holiday pay and lieu of notice pay, which is another couple of months' salary. That's not contentious, but they're not prepared to even give us that.”

Yesterday, in a statement, Scolarest continued to maintain that Essex County Council or individual schools were responsible for catering staff who were made redundant.

The company made a “goodwill offer of compensation” to staff. Out of 100 employees affected, over 70 either accepted the offer or had insufficient service to qualify for a redundancy payment.

“Any member of staff not wishing to accept the offer in full and final settlement of all matters related to their employment, was deemed to have transferred to Essex LEA or the school where they worked.

“We now await the date for the tribunal hearing.”

A spokesman for Essex County Council said: “It's in the hands of the legal team.”

During the summer the Government announced it expects local authorities to provide hot meals in every school by September 2008.

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