Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

Disabled workers win court battle over unpaid wages

Tribunal rules thousands of pounds are owed to staff by employer that failed to warn them of impending sale, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy [...]

Hero for Disabled workers win court battle over unpaid wages
The head office of Clarity & Co in Jubilee Avenue, Highams Park (credit Google)
By Waltham Forest Echo 09 February 2021

Tribunal rules thousands of pounds are owed to staff by employer that failed to warn them of impending sale, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

More than 60 disabled workers have won an award of 13 weeks’ wages from their former employer after an employment tribunal ruled in their favour.

A judge ruled that Clarity & Co, a cosmetics company first set up in 1854 with a charitable aim to help disabled people find work, had failed to warn staff it would be sold, despite going through financial difficulties for more than a year.

The Highams Park firm, which uses the slogan “we don’t see disability, we see workability” was sold to Nicholas Marks in January 2020, with Pioneers Post reporting at the time that all 85 jobs had been saved.

However, last month, trade union Community told the BBC it was representing around 60 people made redundant by the company who alleged their wages and furlough pay had been withheld.

One blind former employee who gave evidence at East London Employment Tribunal last week was Stephen Steppens. He said he had received no furlough pay since September and was forced to live off his savings after working at the company since 1985.

The tribunal found “none of the relevant information” was provided to staff or their representatives before the sale. Judge Benjimin Burgher said that, having employed administrator FRP as early as December 2018, the company had “no excuse” for the failure.

He said: “FRP is a very established administrator and ought to have known its responsibilities.

“It did not take any steps to consult with the appropriate representatives or the employees at all.”

However, he remarked that “time will tell” whether Community will be able to enforce the ruling against the company, which did not attend the hearing or submit evidence.

Chingford and Woodford Green MP Iain Duncan Smith told the House of Commons that Clarity was withholding “around £200,000” in wages, childcare support and national insurance contributions that it owed to “decent but very vulnerable people”.

A spokesperson for Marks told the BBC the company “does not recognise” this figure and that all current staff “have been paid in full up-to-date”.

Some ex-employees have successfully pursued the company for unauthorised deduction of wages – including Stephen, awarded £706 – while other claims are still ongoing, according to Community.

Speaking after the hearing, Community head of equalities Lauren Crowley said it was “a good step” for Clarity’s employees “during a particularly difficult year”.

She said: “The tribunal have made clear there was no excuse not to consult with reps or employees during the process of administration and sale.

“Now the government must intervene to ensure these employees receive the wages that have been withheld from them for many months.”

Lawyer Grant Williams, who represents the claimants, explained that how much they actually receive “will depend upon the eventual outturn of the company’s administration”.

He added: “East London Employment Tribunal has made the maximum possible award to reflect the company’s failures, and rightly so.”

Clarity was originally founded as the Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind in 1854 by a wealthy blind woman, Elizabeth Gilbert, with the aim of employing disabled people who could not find work elsewhere.

Clarity did not respond to requests for comment.