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You could have resolved row with sacked workers; Tribunal hits out at Friction boss.

Byline: Eryl Crump

A NORTH Wales factory boss failed to take reasonable steps to resolve a long-running dispute, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Craig Smith, the managing director of the Friction Dynamics factory at Caernarfon, failed to attend meetings called to try to settle the dispute which led to the sacking of 86 workers last year.

One of the workers, John Davis, took his case to the employment tribunal and after a nine day hearing at Liverpool in October a threeman panel decided unanimously he was unfairly dismissed.

The panel's reasons why they ruled in Mr Davis' favour were published yesterday. Tribunal chairman Eryl Lloyd Parry said of Mr Smith: ``His personal involvement was crucial to any settlement for his personality dominated and determined Friction Dynamics' attitude.

``Mr Smith did not attend a meeting on May 10 nor a meeting with Acas on May 21. Mr Smith did not try to make a success of the meeting of May 25; he did not try to negotiate and thereby made it impossible to achieve a settlement.''

The tribunal noted that Mr Smith refused all offers of conciliation which could have led to the dispute being settled.

John Davis, who was supported by the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G), claimed Mr Smith wanted the workers to leave and foiled negotiations by setting conditions - including a 15pc pay cut - that made it impossible for them to return.

Mr Davis' victory meant all 86 have won their cases against the car parts firm.

Describing Mr Smith as an ``impressive witness'' the tribunal panel recognised that he had detected productivity at the factory could be greatly improved.

Mr Lloyd Parry wrote: ``He appeared to us to be determined, clear sighted and articulate. He was not in the factory as an asset stripper as the T&G suspected. He wanted to make it thrive.

``Mr Smith saw T&G officials as obstructive while they saw him as an enemy of trade unions. He saw himself as striving to keep the company alive. Unable to work with the T&G he avowedly tried to `work round them'.''

The tribunal found that much of what the company said and did in the period leading up to the workers walking out at the end of April last year suggested ``an early intention to dismiss''.

Mr Lloyd Parry referred to a letter sent in mid-April which warned of ``grave repercussions.''

The day after the workers walked out on April 30 Friction Dynamics' business manager Ken Godfrey wrote to the workers stating, ``You have taken industrial action and by doing so have repudiated tour contract of employment. The company recognises and accepts your repudiation.''

Mr Godfrey and Mr Smith told the tribunal the wording was not meant to imply the workers had been sacked.

The tribunal disagreed. Last night the company said it would not comment until the report had been fully considered. Craig Smith, now in the USA, is due to return to Caernarfon next week and is set to address the workforce. T&G regional officer Tom Jones warned workers the dispute was not over. He said Mr Smith could pay the compensation - said to amount to around pounds 2m - or appeal.

CAPTION(S):

CRUNCH MEETING: Owner Craig Smith will address the company's 100 workers early next week.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 6, 2002
Words:551
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