Union in court warning over Fountains workers at meeting in Norwich last night

A union chief sent a strong message to whichever company wins a contract to run Norwich City Council services – take on ex-Fountains workers on their existing terms and conditions or risk a tribunal.

At a meeting last night of more than 60 workers who were employed by Fountains Group until it went into administration just over a week ago, Brian Rye from the UCATT union said they would fight any change to contracts or attempts by the contractor which takes over from Fountains to cut jobs.

Workers, concerned over future pensions and their immediate jobs, gathering at Keir Hardie Hall in St Gregory's Alley in Norwich said they had been left in limbo by the collapse of Fountains, which was formerly Connaught Environmental.

They had kept their jobs when their colleagues in another part of Exeter-based Connaught, which had a �125m contract with Norwich City Council, lost theirs in September 2010.

With Norwich City Council yet to find a permanent successor to the Fountains contract to clean the city's streets and maintain parks, some staff said they were at a loss over how to pay bills and mortgages and were racking up overdraft charges.

Mr Rye, eastern regional secretary for the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT), said he was hopeful all the 153 workers would be taken on under the same conditions.

Backed by a Court of Appeal ruling, the union is arguing that terms known as TUPE regulations still apply even if the company had entered administration.

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Mr Rye told the meeting that any firm which took over and did not honour TUPE, which he said would include paying the workers for the last eight days since the collapse of Fountains, would have a host of employment tribunal claims to deal with.

'If the city council awards the contract there is a liability on the incoming contractor to accept a transfer under the existing regulations,' he said.

'They (the potential contractors) should be under no illusions that we will mount a legal challenge. In the event that one of you falls through we will be off to court.'

Fountains Group, in Whiffler Road, Mile Cross, went into administration last week. The Oxfordshire-based environmental management company had a �4.6m a year contract with Norwich City Council. It also had a �3.3m annual deal to collect rubbish and recycling from thousands of homes.

The city council has found short-term help from Biffa and its own staff to maintain services. About 30 former workers have been taken on by Biffa.

At a city council meeting last night, council leaders said they were 'doing everything we possibly can' to ensure those made redundant were 'prioritised' in any new appointments.

Council leaders also urged MPs to back their calls for the government to give councils more freedom to decide how services should be run, so they could choose whether to run services themselves or outsource them.