King;s Lynn workers court case

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A legal fight to secure compensation for West Norfolk workers made redundant in the collapse of two major high street chains has been taken to the European courts.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) is representing thousands of former Woolworths and Ethel Austin workers who were denied compensation when the chains ceased trading.

Last year, the union won more than £5 million in compensation after an employment tribunal overturned previous court rulings that workers at stores with fewer than 20 staff were not entitled to a settlement when they were made redundant.

The ruling covered former workers at Lynn’s former Ethel Austin store, which went into administration in 2010, and the old Hunstanton and Downham branches of Woolworths, which collapsed in 2009 .

But the government has appealed and a hearing on the case took place at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg yesterday.

USDAW general secretary John Hannett said its case was “morally and logically robust.”

He added: “It makes no sense that workers in stores of less than 20 employees were denied compensation, whereas their colleagues in larger stores did qualify for the award. We hope justice can be done.”

A ruling is not expected for at least six months, but the union believes the outcome could have implications for former staff of other firms, including Jessops, Coment and Phones 4U.