Union rep wins unfair sacking fight at abattoir

A UNION rep who made repeated complaints about health and safety at an abattoir was sacked after being caught driving a pallet truck while trying to use a mobile phone. But Andrew Sanderson insisted he had only been trying to highlight a dangerous situation which had seen an engineer attempting to fix a similar truck with his legs sticking out from underneath the vehicle. Lawyers representing Mr Sanderson, an USDAW representative, claimed their client had been singled out because he had been, in his own words, “a pain in the a***” over health and safety.

One incident at the Colne slaughterhouse, said to be caused by faulty hooks, had seen a carcass fall and injure a union member, an employment tribunal heard. And replacing the hooks would have cost the company, a subsidiary of Morrisons, around GBP125,000, the Manchester hearing was told. An employment judge, Paul Holmes, sitting with two lay members, has ruled that Mr Sanderson was not dismissed because of his union campaigning.

But Judge Holmes said “there may be some element of the claimant being ‘hoist by his own petard’, and treated rather more harshly than his conduct deserved because of his health and safety awareness. “The claimant clearly made, as he accepted, an error and a mistake,” added the judge. “He should have known better, but his error was very shortlived, and had no consequences.” The judge said their own policies, if someone had been struck by a pallet truck, would have recommended a final written warning, so it was unreasonable to impose a more serious penalty when no-one was hurt.

The tribunal heard that the incident which led to Mr Sanderson’s sacking occurred at the Junction Street abattoir on March 6, 2019. Mr Sanderson had spotted an engineer, Andrew Ashworth, attempting to fix a pallet truck with his legs sticking out, and had complained about the safety implications to two line managers. But when no action was taken, he admitted, he drove past Mr Ashworth on a pallet truck, holding his mobile phone with the intention of taking a photo he could send on to health and safety officer Will Smith.

Mr Sanderson told the hearing he did not take a picture as the battery was failing on his phone. Later though he was called in to a disciplinary hearing and eventually dismissed for gross misconduct. An appeal was lodged but this was unsuccessful, with Mr Sanderson told he should have been a “shining star” because of his role.

Judge Holmes adjourned the case for a remedy hearing on February 17.

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