Reporter wins first working hours case

Bald: sidelined and victimised

A news agency reporter told he would be on call 24 hours a day has become the UK’s first employee to win an unfair dismissal case involving the new Working Time Regulations.

John Bald, 37, has been awarded £9,500 against his former employer, the Capital Press Agency in Edinburgh, after a case brought by the NUJ. The new regulations, introduced in 1998, say employees should not be forced to work more than 48 hours a week.

Bald’s solicitor said the tribunal’s ruling would have ramifications throughout the UK and was a warning to employers not to victimise staff who try to raise their rights about excessive hours.

The employment tribunal in Edinburgh heard that Bald joined the agency, owned by Peter and Nancy Steele, in November 1998 when it was known as the Centre Press Agency. He was a senior reporter and earned £15,500 a year.

In December 1999, Peter Steele told Bald that he had plans for a new agency which would involve him having to be available 24 hours a day. Bald wrote seeking clarification and expressed concern that the new plans appeared to contravene WTR rules. He claimed Steele reacted angrily and he was sidelined and victimised at work. At the beginning of January last year he was made redundant.

Steele told the tribunal that Bald had been party to discussions over the new agency. He said a decision to close the news side of the business in Edinburgh was taken after the NUJ told the agency Bald would not work Sundays and would not cover calls without extra pay.

Steele claimed Bald had said he was not interested in a features job and asked to leave right away.

The tribunal said that although Steele "initially appeared plausible, under cross-examination sections of his evidence appeared inherently improbable, so that it was unable to accept his evidence as entirely credible or reliable".

It ruled that the agency had acted unreasonably, that there had not been a genuine case for redundancy and the evidence pointed to the real principal reason for Bald losing his job was his objections to the new working hours being imposed without consultation.

Margaret Gribbon, of Thompsons Scotland, who represented Bald, said: "This ruling is the first of its kind under the new regulations and will have ramifications throughout the whole of the UK.

"It gives a clear message to employers who are promoting the growing culture of excessive working hours and victimise staff who simply seek to assert their rights at work."

Bald, now a freelance, said: "I was used to working long hours but there was a principle at stake. An individual should not be put on call 24 hours a day without any consultation. Within three weeks of raising my concerns I was out of a job."

by Jon Slattery

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