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Unfair Dismissal (Overseas Employment)

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1977

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3.41 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given in a Bill to amend the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 in relation to the unfair dismissal of employees who ordinarily work partly outside and partly inside Great Britain.
This is a specific and important matter affecting the constituents of hon. Members on both sides of the House not by the thousand but by the tens of thousands—people who believe themselves to be protected by our law but who are not so protected. Drivers who go across to the Continent, executives who sell to our overseas customers, buyers who purchase abroad, directors, managers and ordinary working people whom it was intended that the law should cover have been stripped naked of their rights by two decisions of the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

My Bill, which I seek leave to introduce with support from both sides of the House, would consist of one clause only—namely, to provide that those who work outside the United Kingdom remain unprotected, but that those who work partly inside and partly outside do not lose their protection merely because they make journeys abroad.

Briefly, the position is that Schedule 1, paragraph 9(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 provides that the right to bring an action for unfair dismissal
"does not apply to any employment where under his contract of employment the employee ordinarily works outside Great Britain."
I think that all of us believed that a person ordinarily works either inside or outside Great Britain. If he ordinarily works here, he cannot ordinarily work somewhere else.

Unfortunately, that view was not shared by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Portec (UK) Ltd. v. Mogensen. In that case a director who spent a part of his year working inside the United Kingdom and part of it working outside the United Kingdom was dismissed when he was working within the United Kingdom and he was awarded £5,200 by the Industrial Tribunal, that being the maximum permitted. The company then saw fit to appeal, and the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that if a person works partly outside and partly within the United Kingdom, provided that both employments are ordinarily part of his terms of service, he is not protected by the law. In other words, unless his visit abroad is either on an odd occasion or is "extraordinary", he is not protected and he loses the rights which otherwise he would have.

That means that if a lorry driver, reporter, exporter or anyone who maintains a machine goes abroad on anything other than an odd occasion, he will probably find when he gets back that his employers are entitled to dismiss him and that he will have no protection whatever from the rules which were introduced originally in the Industrial Relations Act in one of the very few parts which were totally uncontroversial and for which we all voted and which have now been restated in precise terms in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act.

The other case is Wilson v. Maynard Shipbuilding Consultants. I do not want to say too much about that case, because I understand that there may yet be an appeal. However, in his judgment, Mr. Justice Phillips said:
"The law under which employees who might lose their right to claim compensation for un fair dismissal because they work partly in Great Britain and partly abroad should be amended to take account of the difficulties likely to arise from the development of the EEC, the growth of international companies, and the expansion of motor transport."
I submit that the law should be amended because, as it stands, it is unfair, unreasonable, ludicrous in the result of its interpretation and totally contrary to what all of us believed that it was intended to achieve.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Ronald Atkins, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. David Knox, Mr. David Mudd, Mr. Arnold Shaw, Sir Derek Walker-Smith, Mr. Phillip Whitehead, Mr. Nicholas Winterton and Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth.