Employment Cases Update

Seahorse Maritime Ltd v Nautilus International [2018] EWCA Civ 2789

Date published: 23/01/2019

Appeal against an ET ruling, upheld by the EAT, that the ET had the jurisdiction to entertain the employees' claim for a protective award. Appeal allowed.

The present case concerned employees of the Appellant company, Seahorse, who work on a fleet of support ships. In 2015 the decision was taken to lay up some of the ships in the fleet, which was liable to lead to redundancies in the workforce. Nautilus, the trade union for the employees, brought proceedings under s189 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 claiming that Seahorse was in breach of its obligations under s188. s188(1) reads:

"Where an employer is proposing to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment within a period of 90 days or less, the employer shall consult about the dismissals all the persons who are appropriate representatives of any of the employees who may be affected by the proposed dismissals or may be affected by measures taken in connection with those dismissals."

The main issue here was whether the Appellant company, Seahorse, was the establishment or whether the individual ships were. If each ship was a separate establishment it was very unlikely that at least 20 Seahorse employees would be liable to be made redundant on any one ship and thus they would not be entitled to a protective award. The ET held that the tribunal did have jurisdiction to entertain the claim and that each ship did not constitute a separate establishment - this ruling was upheld by the EAT. Seahorse appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. It was adequately clear from its findings of primary fact that, at least in the typical case, Seahorse crew were assigned to particular ships and that each ship was indeed an establishment. It was clearly a self-contained operating unit of the kind described in the case-law. However, the issue relating to non-assigned employees had not been definitively established, and for that reason it was necessary to consider the territorial jurisdiction issue also - the court decided that there was not a significant connection with Great Britain to overcome the fact that the employees worked abroad.

Read the full text of the judgment on Bailii