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Published 9 June 2015
This case concerned the closure of a number of Bonmarche stores in Northern Ireland. The claimants were employed at four different stores, in different towns, and each store employed fewer than 20 staff. When the claimants were dismissed no collective consultation occurred.
The issue in this case, which was referred to the ECJ by the Northern Ireland Industrial Tribunal, was essentially the same as that considered in the "Woolworths" case, namely whether the word "establishment" in the Directive means the local unit of a business or the business as a whole. The ECJ took the same approach as in the Woolworths case, holding that "establishment" is the local unit or entity to which the redundant workers were assigned to carry out their duties. The ECJ went onto hold that each of the stores was a distinct establishment, because of its organisational structure, and because each store was an individual cost centre managed by a manager. The ECJ also clearly stated that the collective consultation obligations do not apply where the aggregate number of dismissals across all, or some of the establishments over the 90 day period reaches or exceeds the 20 worker threshold. The ECJ noted that if the aggregate figure is taken, the dismissal of a single employee at one of the stores could have triggered the collective consultation obligations, which would not have been appropriate.
While confirming the Woolworth's decision this case gives employers further guidance about the factors that need to be taken into account when considering what constitutes an establishment such as the organisational and financial structures. The ECJ stated that it is not essential that the unit in question is endowed with management that can independently effect collective redundancies, creating scope to argue that the entity to which an employee is assigned may comprise very few employees indeed, thereby limiting the circumstances when the collective consultation obligations are triggered. In the meantime we await the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Woolworths case which should give yet more guidance.