Former workers launch legal action against clinical waste firm over pay

Lawyers are launching legal action on behalf of unpaid former workers at a firm caught up in a row over stockpiling clinical waste.

Hundreds of workers were laid off after Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) ceased trading in December.

Thompsons solicitors said they are launching employment tribunal proceedings on behalf of more than 180 former staff, some of whom say they are owed up to five months’ pay.

MSPs were told in January of a backlog of between 250 and 300 tonnes of clinical waste and 10 tonnes of anatomical waste at Scottish HES sites in Dundee and Shotts.

HES has previously denied claims human body parts were among waste stockpiled at its sites but Environment Agency reports said the company stored remains of NHS patients in un-refrigerated units for more than six months.

Thompsons partner David Martyn, who is in charge of the legal action, said: “The former employees of HES were dismissed without notice in December last year. They have now waited three months for their former employer to do the right thing and pay them the wages, notice pay and holiday pay they are owed.

“Some employees are owed up to five months’ pay and have had to resort to food banks to support their families. The time has now come for us to begin formal legal proceedings to force the company to pay the money the workers are due.”

He added: “The issue is further complicated by the fact that employees cannot access support from the Government’s Insolvency Service.

“This is due to stockpiles of clinical waste, including body parts and radioactive material remaining at the premises, which is preventing the normal insolvency procedures from taking place.

“The workers call on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), the local authorities and other agencies to exercise their statutory powers to get the waste cleared urgently, securing the local environment and allowing the funds to be released from the Insolvency Service.”

HES became embroiled in a clinical waste stockpiling controversy with the NHS in 2017, during which it denied claims human body parts were among items caught up in a backlog at its sites.

The UK Government Insolvency Service said workers who have had a contract for more than two years are entitled to redundancy pay.

It said it has received 158 claims for redundancy and has paid out £464,000 to claimants, with only one claim outstanding.

A spokesman said: “Healthcare Environmental Services has not put itself into insolvency so under law the workers cannot claim for wages owed, notice pay or holiday pay at this time.

“If the company puts itself into an insolvency procedure then these payments could be made. This has nothing at all to do with any clinical waste that remains onsite – this is a totally separate issue, unrelated to the acceptance of their claims, and not something the Insolvency Service would have any responsibility for in any case.”

Sepa said in February that having serviced enforcement notices in September and December 2018, inspections found that HES continues not to fully comply with the requirements set out in the enforcement notice for their Hassockrigg site at Shotts.

A spokesman said: “Sepa is undertaking regular inspections of the sites and is working with other authorities to ensure that the environment and local communities are fully protected.

“Our inspections have not identified any current risk of pollution from the waste stored on the sites.”