Tribunal finds in favour of disabled workers made redundant from Chingford company

More than 60 blind or disabled workers have won an extra 13 weeks of wages from their former employer.

A judge ruled today, Thursday February 4, that Clarity & Co, a cosmetics company based in Jubilee Avenue, Highams Park, Chingford, failed to warn staff it would be sold, despite knowing it was in financial difficulties for more than a year.

Clarity, a charitable enterprise set up in 1854 to help disabled people find work, was sold to Nicholas Marks on January 31 last year.

However, last month, Community union revealed it was representing around 60 people made redundant by the company, who alleged their wages and furlough pay have been withheld.

One blind former-employee who gave evidence today, Stephen Steppens, said he had received no furlough pay since September and was forced to live off his savings after working at the company since 1985.

The East London Employment Tribunal found “none of the relevant information” was provided to staff or their representatives before the sale.

Employment Judge Benjimin Burgher said that, having employed administrator FRP as early as December 2018, the company had “no excuse” for the failure.

He said: “FRP is a very established administrator and ought to have known its responsibilities.

“It did not take any steps to consult with the appropriate representatives or the employees at all.”

However, he remarked that “time will tell” whether Community will be able to enforce the ruling against the company, which did not attend the hearing or submit evidence.

On January 12, Chingford & Woodford Green MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith told the House of Commons that Clarity was withholding “around £200,000” in wages, childcare support and national insurance contributions that it owed to “decent but very vulnerable people”.

A spokesperson for Marks said the company “does not recognise” this figure and that all current staff “have been paid in full up-to-date”.

Some ex-employees have successfully pursued the company for unauthorised deduction of wages – including Mr Steppens, awarded £706 – while other claims are still ongoing, according to the union.

Speaking after the hearing, Community head of equalities Lauren Crowley said it was “a good step” for Clarity’s employees “during a particularly difficult year”.

She said: “The tribunal has made clear there was no excuse not to consult with reps or employees during the process of administration and sale.

“Now the Government must intervene to ensure these employees receive the wages that have been withheld from them for many months.”

Grant Williams, who represented the claimants at today’s hearing, explained that how much they actually receive “will depend upon the eventual outturn of the company’s administration”.

He added: “The East London Employment Tribunal have made the maximum possible award to reflect the company’s failures, and rightly so”.

Clarity was offered an opportunity to comment but has yet to respond.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter