Two South Tyneside binmen who launched unfair and wrongful dismissal claims after being sacked over an alleged drinking-on-the-job dispute have reached an 11th-hour settlement with council chiefs.
Driver David Nightingale and bin operative Ronnie Spence were axed by South Tyneside Council last February over the allegations - which they firmly deny - and were due to contest their dismissals at an employment tribunal yesterday.
I’m very disappointed that Mr Nightingale was dismissed in the first place.Denis Doody
The dismissed duo struck a pay-out deal with the council on the eve of the employment hearing in North Shields - but a union boss says they have had to endure months of hell due to a ‘lack of judgement’ shown by council decision-makers.
Mr Spence, 54, lost his job after being accused of drinking while on duty on December 27, 2014, with 58-year-old Mr Nightingale also fired after council bosses said he was aware members of the crew were drinking.
Both men – who have more than 60 years of service with the council between them – denied the allegations and were successful in an appeal to the council’s appeals panel - who overturned the decision, a hearing heard.
But the panel – made up of local councillors – than saw its ruling overturned by town hall bosses.
A third worker who admitted drinking alcohol at work on the day had his dismissal upheld.
A preliminary employment tribunal hearing held in April heard that both men were given the green light to return to work when South Tyneside Council’s head of legal services, Mike Harding, sent an email on August 28 to their union representative – South Tyneside councillor Wilf Flynn – stating the appeal had been successful.
Coun Flynn phoned both men to share the good news and told them to expect a letter finalising their re-appointment, the hearing heard.
But when the letter arrived, on September 9, it informed the men the council had rejected the appeal’s panel decision – and the two of them had effectively been sacked for a second time.
Both men were claiming unfair and wrongful dismissal and unlawful deduction of wages.
Denis Doody, regional secretary of UCATT, The union representing Mr Nightingale, said: “I’m very disappointed that Mr Nightingale was dismissed in the first place. I think it was an error, a lack of judgement from the local authority.
“I have worked in local government for the best part of 25 years and have never known an appeal panel’s decision be reversed.
“He has been through hell. All he ever wanted was his job back.”
Neither Mr Nightingale or Mr Spence have commented on the settlement
South Tyneside Council declined to comment on the agreement.