Belfast Telegraph

Former Gallaher factory worker wins case over 'ageist' payout

By Adrian Rutherford

A man excluded from an enhanced severance package when the Gallaher tobacco factory in Ballymena closed was the victim of age discrimination, a tribunal has ruled.

Bernard Barlow (66) worked for Gallaher Limited, once a major employer in north Antrim, for 27 years.

He was employed as a machine worker at the factory owned by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) Limited since October 1998, having previously worked at their plant in Hyde, outside Manchester.

After the company announced the Ballymena site was to close, all staff were asked to sign a settlement agreement.

Mr Barlow refused to sign up as the sum he would receive was less than the amount employees aged under 65 would get. He believed this was discriminatory on the grounds of his age.

He took a case - supported by the Equality Commission - with an industrial tribunal ruling in his favour.

A decision on compensation will be announced at a later date.

Mr Barlow said: "I had worked for Gallaher's for 27 years and hadn't had a sick day in over 10 years. I considered myself to be a loyal and dedicated employee.

"It was hurtful and upsetting to be told after all those years of service that I was being treated differently than some colleagues simply because of my age.

"I found it offensive to be excluded from the company's redundancy scheme just because of my age and it is still distressing when I consider how I have been treated."

In May 2014, Mr Barlow notified the company that he wished to continue working after he turned 65 in February 2016. However, in the meantime JTI announced that it intended to close its Ballymena factory.

Discussions took place between management and the Unite trade union on the redundancy package, based on a contractual redundancy scheme in place from 2009 which stated "entitlement… only applies up to age 65". Employees aged over 65 would only receive statutory redundancy pay. This scheme had not been amended following the government's removal of the Default Retirement Age in October 2011.

The tribunal noted that during the negotiation process, the views of the workers over 65 years were not specifically canvassed by either the management or trade union side.

Nor did management undertake an equality audit to ascertain whether the scheme might potentially discriminate against that group of workers.

A final severance package was agreed between management and union officials in February 2015. Following this, all employees were asked to sign a settlement agreement.

Mr Barlow did not sign up as the sum he would receive was less than the amount employees under 65 years would get. He believed this was discriminatory on the grounds of his age.

An internal grievance was unsuccessful and he lodged a claim with the industrial tribunal on May 12, 2015.

The company did not dispute that the scheme adversely affected employees over 65, but contested the case on the ground of objective justification - a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The tribunal accepted that the company was "genuine in its desire to see that the resources for enhanced redundancies payments would be spread fairly and equitably across the workforce, but the inescapable reality was that those employees who, like Mr Barlow, were over 65, were completely excluded from the benefits of the company's enhanced severance scheme".

In its decision, the tribunal found "no evidence that the company seriously considered any alternative methods which could have constituted a proportionate way of achieving its aims i.e. by tapering provisions or amending the net pay limitations... no transitional measures were considered, which could have mitigated the discriminatory effects of the scheme".

The tribunal found that Mr Barlow suffered both direct and indirect discrimination on the ground of age.

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