Tag Archives: Employment Tribunals

Durham Cathedral Staff Tribunal Starts

Our thanks to Valiant For Truth for bringing to our attention that in The Journal Newspaper yesterday there was an article of great import to those who frequent this site,

Durham Cathedral Bookshop Staff Launch Legal Fight

This in many ways marks the official start of Durham Staff in their fight for Justice against the Brewer Brothers and their tactics of playing fast and loose with employment law and the rights of workers to be treated fairly and dismissed in a right way.

However Durham Cathedral itself via their trading arm are also in the dock as it were, again something that may not come as any great surprise to readers of this blog who have at times been dismayed, upset and hurt by some of the Cathedrals inactions and actions throughout the saga.

The article begins by saying:

CATHEDRAL bosses could become embroiled in a complex legal fight after bookshop staff launched tribunal proceedings.

Six workers at Durham Cathedral’s bookshop are seeking compensation after their employment was allegedly terminated when the shop unexpectedly closed on January 22 this year.

But confusion has arisen over who is potentially liable for any payouts and proceedings have been listed against several different companies, including the cathedral’s trading arm, Durham Cathedral Trading Ltd.

The article then goes on to say:

Miss Jeram, representing the Trust, (inserted clarification for blog readers – that’s SSGCT) said: “There are a number of uncertainties. There has been a great deal of confusion right from the beginning over their employer.

“The only issues can be who the employer was immediately prior to the closing of the bookshop and who the employer was at any time after that, in the period between January 22 and March 1.

“We’ve got to consider whether the claims should be struck out against the first respondent. At some point after June 2007 and before July 2008 it is my understanding that the Brewers attempted to wind up SSG LLC in Houston. After that time their employer could not have been SSG so it would have become the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company.”

Claims against employers involve redundancy pay, unfair dismissal, breach of contract and unpaid work.

Sara Brody, representing the staff on behalf of shop workers union Usdaw at the hearing, argued the Trust should remain on the list of potential employers.

She said: “The claimants believe the Trust was their employer throughout, so their primary claim is against the Trust.”

Last year Durham cathedral bosses served SSG notice to vacate the shop, the last in the UK to be involved with the Trust, by May of this year.

Again these issues as raised are nothing new to anyone aquainted with this situation, previous tribunal actions and this blog.

So again we would ask that anyone who has any information, paperwork or correspondence of any sort that could help USDAW and the Durham staff to clear up the issue of employers please do get in touch with them directly.  Anything that demonstrates who people believed they were doing business with or indeed were doing business with during the time frames mentioned can all help in proving who the employers were and give credence to the staffs perception of employer, so please do get in touch with USDAW and offer your help to them in making sure justice is again done.

As always our thoughts are with those involved in this action and we hope for a swift and just outcome for the Staff at Durham.

Official Usdaw Press Release: Victory for workers sacked by email

Download Full Press Release (pdf, 224kb)

Download Full Press Release (pdf, 224kb)

Phil Groom writes:

Usdaw released the Press Release (html | pdf, 224kb) copied below today, Wednesday 19 August 2009. The Notes to Editors appended to the press release give a superb summary of the whole Brewer debacle to date, so be sure to click through to read that; and don’t miss this BBC report: Sacked bookshop staff win payout!

The story is, of course, far from over yet, with Philip W ‘Slippery Fingers’ Brewer apparently still in personal control of the Chichester and Durham shops. Reports emerging indicate that the Charity Commission are closing in, however…

Victory for workers sacked by email

32 sacked Christian bookshop workers have finally won a substantial payout with the help of shopworkers’ union Usdaw.

The workers were employed by the long-established SPCK chain of Christian bookshops until they were transferred to a charity called Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG) in November 2006, controlled by two American brothers, Mark and Philip Brewer.

The Brewers tried to force the staff to sign new contracts which gave them longer hours, fewer holidays and poorer pension rights.

Between February and June 2008 the 32 workers were sacked by the Brewer brothers, with many getting the news by e-mail, breaking UK employment law.

Usdaw launched a legal fight to help the workers get justice and the money they were owed when they were sacked, lodging claims in the Employment Tribunal.

Heather Leather, one of the sacked workers, said:

“We were so pleased to have Usdaw behind us when all this happened. At the shop where I worked the staff had a total of more than 100 years’ service between us. We simply didn’t know what was happening when the Brewers started all this, and we never expected to be treated this way, when we had done nothing wrong. But Usdaw was behind us from the start and guided us round all the legal hurdles the Brewers tried to put in our way.”

John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary, added:

“We are delighted that these long-serving and dedicated members have finally won the compensation they deserve. We believe they have been treated appallingly, with no regard for British law or for the loyalty of the staff.

“Usdaw’s Legal Department has worked hard to ensure that justice was achieved for these workers. Because the case was so complex, affecting people in shops across the country, they would never have been able to get such a great result without the backing of a union, and Usdaw is proud to have been able to help them.”

Tribunal Payouts Agreed

Phil Groom writes:

Negotiations between Usdaw and the Charity Commission’s Interim Manager to settle the Employment Tribunal claims of the former SPCK/SSG Bookshop employees have now been completed, with an agreement signed through ACAS.

The amounts being paid to Usdaw’s members are confidential for three months (negotiations with other claimants and creditors are believed to be still underway), but all Usdaw claimants have been notified and initial payments are expected to be made this week. Further payouts should follow after the sale of some of the charity’s assets by the Charity Commission.

Congratulations to all concerned and a massive round of applause and vote of thanks to Christine Peacock, Usdaw’s Senior Legal Assistant, and the rest of Usdaw’s legal team for all their efforts.

h/t asingleblog for this information… and after all the hassle and headaches I can’t believe I’m writing this so dispassionately: party time people!!

Party Time

Tribunals Postponed: Statement from USDAW

Phil Groom writes:

New post from Dave Walker on the Church Times blog yesterday with an official statement from Usdaw confirming Matt Wardman’s last update:

St. Stephen the Great tribunal update

Both parties agreed late on Friday to postpone today’s preliminary hearing on St. Stephen the Great, which had been scheduled to consider who the employer of the claimants was at the time they were dismissed.

The hearing is being postponed to allow time for members to consider a settlement offer. However, members have to agree unanimously to the offer for the case to be settled. Each claimant has been sent a letter outlining the settlement proposal and seeking instructions from them. They have been asked to respond as soon as possible, so that the union is able to negotiate terms of settlement or proceed with the hearing if no agreement can be reached.

11 May 2009

At present the only info about this case on Usdaw’s website appears to be the statement issued on 24 June 2008, Usdaw fights for mistreated bookshop workers.

As others have said, fantastic to see Dave posting on the story again.

Dave: I suspect I speak for many when I say I look forward to seeing you regain sufficient confidence to repost your missing material, complete with comments. Even if you don’t open it up for discussion, think of it as a public service: there’s sure to be information in those comments that the Charity Commission’s Interim Manager and solicitors would find very helpful…

Tribunals: Next Round Begins

Phil Groom writes:

Please spare a thought and/or pray for everyone involved in the next round of Employment Tribunals, which start today.

The Charity Commission’s appointment of an Interim Manager is good news on the one hand in that at last an outside agency is responding to the Brewers depredations of the former SPCK bookshops; but on the other hand, the solicitors appointed by the Interim Manager have specific responsibility “to preserve the assets of the charity and contest the legal claims of the Usdaw members.”

Let justice roll on like a river!

USDAW Statement as reported on the Church Times blog:

St. Stephen the Great tribunal

The long-awaited first stage of the St. Stephen the Great tribunal is due to take place next week in Bury St. Edmunds, commencing Monday 11 May, and is scheduled to run for three days. This is a preliminary hearing to consider who the employer of the claimants was at the time they were dismissed (the charitable trust, or one of the two limited companies).

Since the date was arranged, the Charity Commission has been conducting an investigation into how the charitable trust has been run and has now used its powers under the Charities Act to intervene and appoint an interim manager to manage the affairs of the charity (in place of the previous trustees, who were the American-based Mark Brewer and other members of his family). The interim manager has, in turn, appointed new solicitors to preserve the assets of the charity and contest the legal claims of the Usdaw members.

These new solicitors asked the tribunal to postpone the hearing in order to allow extra time for them to get up to speed with the cases. But Usdaw objected, as our members had been waiting so long for their cases to be heard. The hearing will now commence on the Monday morning with legal arguments for and against the granting of a postponement of the tribunal.

Usdaw is hoping that the court will consider the best interests of the claimants, who have waited patiently for justice, three of whom will be travelling to Bury St. Edmunds to appear as test case witnesses on behalf of all those dismissed, and allow the case to continue on the day.

Tribunals Update in Christian Marketplace

Phil Groom writes:

Christian Marketplace Feb 2009

Christian Marketplace February 2009

A warm welcome to anyone who has arrived here after reading the latest report in Christian Marketplace mag:

SSG Tribunal date set for May

Ex-employees of the beleaguered SSG bookshop chain (formerly SPCK Bookshops) moved closer to getting their claims against their employer heard with the announcement of the date for a preliminary hearing in May (11-13), to be held in Bury St Edmunds.

Christine Peacock from shopworker’s union Usdaw, which is representing thirty one former staff at the Tribunal, said, “The preliminary hearing will decide who the employer was at the time.”

Read the full article >

I’m not sure that my post New to the SPCK/SSG Story, or just feeling lost? really “gives an indepth history of the story” as generously described by that  Christian Marketplace report, but it does provide some pointers that should help you find your way through the maze.

If you’re involved in the Christian book trade or are a church leader and you don’t receive your own copy of Christian Marketplace, head on over to the UKCBD Blog to find out how to pick up a FREE subscription: Keeping Up to Date, Getting Up to Speed.

Now, whatever is going on in Bountiful, Tucson?

St Stephen the Great – Case Management Discussion 18/9/08

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to Cherry Hamilton, Usdaw’s Media Officer, for this report, received this afternoon. At this stage I’ll leave it for others to dissect and discuss…

Also available for download as a pdf.


St Stephen the Great – Case Management Discussion 18/9/08

At the Case Management Discussion on Thursday 18/9/08 Employment Judge Mitchell made the following orders

  • He confirmed that there are 3 Respondents:-

–       St Stephen the Great Ltd

–       St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust

–       ENC Shop Management Co.

He stated that as St Stephen the Great Llc does not exist they could not be a Respondent.

  • All claimants were granted leave to submit claims against any Respondents they had not thus far submitted claims against.
  • The respondents were given until 16/10/08 to reply to any claims to which they have not yet responded.
  • The Judge acknowledged that an important issue in these cases is which organisation was the employer at the date of dismissal and thus who is the appropriate Respondent. He plans to deal with this as a preliminary issue at a preliminary hearing in the New Year.
  • The parties were ordered to exchange a list of documents relating to the issue of which respondent was the employer at the date of dismissal by 14/11/08.
  • There will be a further Case Management Discussion on 11/12/08 by telephone which will timetable a preliminary hearing and steps to take in anticipation of such a hearing. The preliminary hearing will address the issue of which organisation was the employer and thus should be the Respondent.

Once the preliminary issue concerning the identity of the appropriate Respondent is resolved we will be able to move on to look at the merits of the individual cases.

A Psalm for Thursday

Time to Pray

Phil Groom writes:

For my not-quite-daily prayers I use Church House Publishing‘s Time to Pray: it’s an excellent and very handy little prayer book, just right for someone like me whose mind tends to wander all over the place as I wander into work each day. I find the structure and discipline of following a fixed pattern of prayer is precisely what my chaotic and caffeine-laced mind needs; and yes, I count myself fortunate to have a job to go to, unlike many of those for whom I offer this Psalm, those whose employment tribunals are coming up on Thursday this week.

It also strikes me as highly appropriate that for this post I am drawing on a book published by Church House Publishing, one of the publishers (alongside SPCK themselves, of course) whom I believe the collapse of the SPCK bookshops has hit the hardest.

Today, being Tuesday (albeit not for much longer: I’m writing this at 10.30pm), one of the set readings is Psalm 17:1-8. It struck me as highly appropriate for Thursday’s hearings and I took the liberty of rephrasing it slightly in my prayers this morning, turning it from the singular to the plural, from the past to the present… and yes, a few more liberties. Hit the link above for the unadulterated text if such things worry you. I offer it again for all of us now:

Refrain: Deliver us, O Lord, by your hand.

1  Hear our just cause, O Lord; consider our complaint; 
 listen to our prayer, which comes not from lying lips.

2  Let our vindication come forth from your presence; 
 let your eyes behold what is right.

3  Weigh our hearts, examine us by night, 
 refine us, and you will find no impurity in us.

Deliver us, O Lord, by your hand.

4  May our mouths not trespass for earthly rewards; 
 may we heed the words of your lips.

5  May our footsteps hold fast in the ways of your commandments; 
 may our feet not stumble in your paths.

Deliver us, O Lord, by your hand.

6  We call upon you, O God: will you answer us? 
 Incline your ear to us, and listen to our words.

7  Show us your marvellous loving-kindness, 
 O Saviour of those who take refuge at your right hand
   from those who rise up against them.

8  Keep us as the apple of your eye; 
 hide us under the shadow of your wings.

Deliver us, O Lord, by your hand.

The problem with such a prayer, of course, is that the Brewers are likely to be offering similar prayers, thinking of us as their enemies, rising up against them. That’s perhaps one of the saddest aspects of this whole business, that they too believe themselves to be serving God. It’s enough to make a grown man weep; and I do.

If you can, then, pray not with bitterness, pray not for vengeance, but rather for peace and justice…

Finally: Mark and Philip Brewer, if you happen to read this: once again, I assure you of my prayers: may you find the grace to respond generously to those whom you have wronged; and if you cannot find that grace of your own free will, may the courts help you find your way…

SPCK Employment Tribunal Updates

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Matt Wardman reports:

A snapshot from yesterday’s Lincolnshire Echo. This is happening in a number of towns and cities.

SPCK staff take claims to tribunal

Four workers from a Lincoln bookshop are to take their claims of unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal later this month.

As reported in the Echo, staff at the SPCK bookshop in Sincil Street, which closed in March, have filed claims for unfair dismissal against the shop’s owner American charity the St Stephen the Great Trust.

It has now been reported that the trust, run by Texan brothers Philip and Mark Brewer, has been listed for bankruptcy in the US and has no assets to liquidate.

Shopworkers’ union Usdaw is taking a total of 30 cases to the tribunal at Bury St Edmunds on September 30.

NB: Since this report was posted it’s emerged that the Lincolnshire Echo got the date wrong: the hearings are scheduled for Thursday 18th Sept 2008 (see comments below).


Related Reports and Articles (Added by Phil Groom; most recent first)

I think this includes most of the key articles: any I’ve missed, please post a comment. Thank you – Phil.