‘Unions will ruin this country’ – Boss’s alleged outburst after worker raises covid safety fears

Alejandro Morales was sacked after complaining about a wage cut and an alleged lack of PPE and social distancing.

After a warehouse worker complained about a pay cut and an alleged lack of social distancing, the company’s owner told staff that he would “not be dictated to by a union” and said that unions would ruin the country.

According to an employment judge, the majority-owner of Premier Fruits Jason Tanner is likely to have dismissed employee Alejandro Morales for using trade union UVW to bring grievances.

Judge Siddall ruled that Morales must be re-instated and paid full back pay while he waits for his employment tribunal case to be heard.

In March 2020, Premier Fruits proposed that staff at London’s New Covent Garden’s fruit and vegetable market take a 25% pay cut and one week’s unpaid leave per month, as the lockdown had hurt the company’s sales.

In May, the UVW union lodged a complaint on behalf of Morales about the wage cut and about an alleged lack of social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Tanner then called a staff meeting without inviting Morales and was allegedly recorded saying: “I will not be dictated to by a union. What they did to this firm 12 years ago was disgusting. If they are not careful, they will ruin this country.”

Tanner is the controlling-owner of the company, which made an operating profit before tax of over £4m last year. The company’s directors, of which Tanner is one, were paid nearly £500,000.

Speaking after the judge’s decision, Morales said: “I feel very good, I feel like the fight and all of the pain has been worth it, I feel really grateful to UVW, and to everyone who helped me.”

Also speaking shortly after the ruling, UVW Employment Tribunal Caseworker, Cormac Devlin, said: “This victory should empower workers to organise collectively and to speak out against pay cuts and unsafe working conditions.”

Devlin continued: “The employment tribunal’s decision to reinstate Alejandro, following his unlawful dismissal for raising a grievance through UVW, demonstrates that workers are legally protected against union-busting employment practices. There’s power in a union and UVW will have your back if you have the courage to speak out in your workplace”.”

The case has yet to go to a full employment tribunal so the judge has yet to rule either way. According to the judge, Premier Fruits thought all staff, including Morales, had agreed to a wage cut.

In a statement, Premier Fruits said:

“0n 19 August 2020 Premier Fruits Covent Garden Ltd became the focus of a mis-leading statement, surrounding a case involving a member of staff who is affiliated with the United Voices of the World trade Union.

Our Solicitors are currently engaging with the Union to retract that Union’s statement that contains falsehoods in relation to the situation.

Premier has always been, and continues to be, a wholehearted supporter of its workforce and the pivotal role it plays within our business operations.

Premier Fruits, as many other companies throughout this pandemic have been, were thrown into financial dis-array with the sudden and dramatic loss of business overnight through no fault other than the global situation. Premier as a responsible employer met with its workforce early on to discuss the position and reached a consensus with its employees to reduce wages and working weeks to not only help the business survive and keep all its employees in working employment, but to also comply with all socially distancing laws at that time.

All employees agreed with the arrangement and the business continued to trade albeit at a dramatically reduced rate. One employee subsequently felt that he was unable to sustain the adjustment to their wage and raised a grievance through their trade union.

The company complied with all employment laws following the correct procedures throughout eventually not being able to agree a situation that the employee would find acceptable, the employee and employer parted company as the business was not in a position to agree terms other than those agreed by the rest of the workforce.

The employee then made an interim relief application which was granted by the judge as, on a broad assessment of the evidence, she felt that the employee was likely to succeed at a final hearing with his claim  that he was dismissed for making use of the services of a trade union to bring his grievance; however, the judge made no findings of fact as to whether the employee was dismissed for this – it remains that this will be determined at a final hearing. Furthermore, the judge confirmed that they did not feel that the employee’s claim for automatic unfair dismissal for making a protected disclosure (which included in relation to PPE and social distancing) was likely to succeed. As a result of the interim relief hearing, the employee has been reinstated and we have welcomed him back into the business.

We are disappointed by the judge’s decision but remain confident that we will successfully defend the claims at a final hearing.”

Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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