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Ex-Connaught workers launch legal proceedings

Trade union GMB has launched legal proceedings against three contractors and consultants KPMG after a row over the wage payments of 129 ex-Connaught workers.

The union has submitted cases to the Employment Tribunal against Kier, Lovell, administrators KPMG and Hull City Council’s in-house contractor KWL for the unlawful deduction of wages, unfair dismissal and failure to consult, Construction News has learned.

The council transferred an £8 million maintenance contract and 129 workers to Morgan Sindall subsidiary Lovell Partnerships, following the collapse of social housingmaintenance firm Connaught.

The council then reversed the decision in December and decided to split the contract between Kier and KWL.

Workers were being paid by Lovell until 12 January when payments were stopped. Unions including GMB and Unison complained staff had been abandoned while the contract transfer is completed.

Kier and KWL requested the council pay the salaries of the affected employees for a period from 13 January to the 31 January 2011.

Hull City Council said: “”The council is sympathetic to the cause of the workers and has explored any way in which we could support the request, but unfortunately we have no legal powers that enable it to do so.
 
“We appreciate that the ex-Lovell Respond workforce find themselves in a very difficult and uncertain situation and assure you that we are seeking to resolve this matter as quickly as we can and are supporting them by facilitating access to the Community Legal Advice Centre.
 
“The council understands that discussions between trade unions and KWL and Kier are underway.”

A spokesperson for GMB said the union expects Kier to sign a new contract on 25 January, but added: “There is no guaranteeing the terms will be satisfactory at this stage.”

In a statement Kier said: “Kier and KWL are in detailed dialogue with Hull City Council and will be liaising with trade unions in order to bring about a speedy and expedient resolution for everyone concerned.”

If the union decides to proceed with the tribunals after a new contract is signed, the firms face a long dispute as cases take up to six months to be heard.

Russell Jones & Walker legal department partner Julie Morris, said: “Just because the individual signs new contracts, it doesn’t mean the claim goes away. You really don’t want the case to go to tribunal because these claims are worth a lot of money.”

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