Justice sought for victims of Holman TUPE travestyTelecoms & Financial Services, BT, Openreach, BT Fleet, Rivus January 8 2024
Preliminary steps have been taken to initiate legal action by the union on behalf of around 600 former Rivus Fleet Solutions employees who lost their jobs without being paid their full contractual redundancy payments following a chaotic and grotesque wrangle between three corporate entities over who was responsible for what.
The obscene game of corporate ‘pass the parcel’ drew to its ugly conclusion on September 29 last year when Rivus’s service and maintenance contract for BT and Openreach vehicles expired – resulting in the closure of 48 of the company’s 54 garages.
The contract loss stemmed from BT having appointed a new fleet services provider called Holman Fleet Services which bizarrely has no garage network of its own. While Rivus – which bought BT Fleet in 2019 – informed the union of the loss of the BT Group contract at the start of last year, for many months the company consistently assured the union it was confident that new work stemming from a variety of new contracts would plug the gap without the need for job losses, despite the fact that the BT contract accounted for around 70% of its workload
That assessment proved over-optimistic, however, and in July staff received the bombshell that they would not be working for Rivus after September 29th.
Some limited reassurance should have been provided by TUPE law. Given that BT Group fleet services work still exists – and that it was simply transferring from one service provider to another– the union and its legal counsel were, and remain, convinced that any Rivus employees working predominantly on the BT/ Openreach contract should automatically have been covered by TUPE protections. This means that impacted workers’ would transfer to Holman as the new employer together with the responsibility for their contractual employment rights, including redundancy terms in job loss situations.
In practice, however, the union’s entire Rivus membership was plunged into a two month nightmare, for virtually all of which they were entirely in the dark about what the future would hold.
Set against the backdrop of incessant and increasingly urgent demands for clarity by the union on behalf of rightly horrified members, it ultimately became apparent that the root of the problem was Holman’s wholesale denial that a TUPE situation even existed for the vast majority of staff – despite the unwavering assessment of both the CWU and Rivus that it categorically did and does.
To complicate matters further, when BT Fleet was sold to Aurelius and subsequently became Rivus, BT Group indemnified Rivus against future redundancy costs that resulted from a subsequent TUPE transfer. The CWU understands that Rivus and BT bitterly disputed the extent of that liability – and of course Holman was denying it was a TUPE situation at all – but tellingly BT did ultimately agree to pay the redundancy costs of those that they believed were in-scope to transfer to Holman, resulting in eleventh hour ‘offers of settlement’ that fell short of individual’s contractual redundancy entitlements. The shortfall is explained by the fact that Rivus and BT disagreed on the number that were in-scope to transfer but Rivus paid the money from BT to all of those it believed were in-scope.
Failure to consult…
The union’s employment tribunal claim centres on the failure of both Holman and Rivus to properly inform and consult in respect of the TUPE and subsequent redundancy situation. It is also a fact that the contractual notice period to which transferring employees (including those ‘transferring’ into redundancy) are entitled under TUPE law was never served or paid for.
The union expects the claim will relate not just all those who were laid off by Rivus on September 29 but also around 60 individuals who did ultimately transfer to Holman under TUPE terms (despite the company’s initial refusal to accept that even that was a TUPE). These people too received no formal notice.
CWU national officer Allan Eldred told CWU News: “Legal requirements mean that this action is on behalf of the union as an entity, and not individual members.
“The union’s intention, however, is that any financial remedy that may result will, at least in part, be shared with those who were members of the CWU at the time of the service transfer on September 29th, 2023, and who remain members until the conclusion of the union’s legal claim against Rivus and Holman.
“After careful consideration we have decided to reopen membership for a limited period for members who were previously employed by Rivus and whose membership has lapsed since September 29. This is being done because some paid their union subscriptions through deductions from their Rivus pay – and their CWU membership may therefore have unwittingly lapsed.
“These individuals were written to before Christmas – but, for clarity, former Rivus members, including those who transferred to Holman under TUPE, who were members of the CWU on September 29, 2023, will have until Friday January 26 to rejoin the union. The period that we would normally give has been extended as a result of the Christmas and New Year breaks.”
Allan concludes: “This legal action could take some considerable time to reach a conclusion, will incur substantial, potentially unrefundable, costs to the union and, as in the case of any legal case, there can never be a 100% chance of success.
“However, after one of the worst experiences of mistreatment I have seen our members have to suffer in well over 40 years as a union representative the action provides not just a realistic prospect of justice finally being served. Crucially it also lays down an important marker that the travesty suffered by our former Rivus members must never be allowed to happen again.”