Union chiefs warn firm who takes over Fountains council contract to take former workers on under same terms

Union chiefs have warned the future council contractor who takes on ex-Fountains staff – honour workers' terms and conditions or we'll see you in court.

At a meeting of more than 60 former workers, who were employed by Mile Cross-based Fountains Group until it went into administration last Monday, 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 staff.

The environmental management firm, which had its Norwich base on Whiffler Road, had a �4.6m a year contract with Norwich City Council to clean streets and maintain parks.

It also had a �3.3m annual deal to collect rubbish and recycling from thousands of homes.

Workers, gathering at the Keir Hardie Hall on St Gregory's Alley in the city centre last night told the Evening News how they had been left in limbo by the collapse of Fountains, which was formerly called Connaught Environmental Services.

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 no decision expected by Norwich City Council on who is awarded the Fountains contract until next week, some staff said they were at a loss over how to pay their bills and mortgages, and were racking up overdraft charges at their banks.

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Michael Smith, 45, from Hethersett said: 'I've got enough money for February and then I'll be totally out. You are in a no-win situation.'

Barry Smart, 43, from Wymondham, said the last eight days had been 'diabolical'. 'I've got no money,' he said. 'There's embarrassment going to the job centre.'

And Richard Snelling, 46, from Mile Cross, said the workers were unsure whether to look for new work and risk not getting their redundancy from whoever takes over Fountains or sign on to benefits and wait to see how it was resolved.

But 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 though Fountains had entered administration.

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.

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. That is not an idle threat.

'It's been a hard couple of weeks, but the objective is to get over that.'

The city council has found short-term help from Biffa, which has taken on around 30 former Fountains workers, and its own staff to maintain services.

• Have you been affected by Fountains going into administration ? Call Evening News reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk