A four-day trial in the High Court will start on Monday 18 February 2019 to hear the claims of eleven Lithuanian workers who allege they were trafficked to the UK and put to work in gruelling conditions catching chickens at farms all over the UK. The farms supplied chickens and eggs for brands such as “Happy Eggs”, available in supermarkets across Britain.
The claimants allege they were beaten by supervisors, housed in filthy and overcrowded conditions, deprived of rest, and that a Lithuanian “middle-man”, Mr Edikas Mankevicius, threatened them with eviction, violence and aggressive Rottweiler dogs.
The men also allege contractual and related statutory breaches, including the failure to pay the due minimum wage, the charging of unlawful “employment” fees, and the systemic withholding of wages. According to the claimants, wages were regularly withheld for the most arbitrary of reasons, such as leaving a cup in the sink, inviting guests to the house, or for being new to the job. At the same time, they allege they were made to work back-to-back shifts for days at a time, sleeping only in the back of a mini bus between farms.
The four-day trial will determine the preliminary issue of whether Darrell Houghton and his partner, Jackie Judge, are personally liable for the alleged contractual and related statutory breaches of their company, DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd. The pair deny liability.
The couple, along with Mr Edikas Mankevicius, are currently also facing criminal prosecution in Lithuania relating to the treatment of the workers.
In June 2016, in separate proceedings against the same defendants, the High Court ruled that the company had failed to pay a different group of six Lithuanian workers the due minimum wage, had made unlawful deductions from wages, and failed to provide adequate facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink. The case settled with no further admission of liability.
The claimants in both civil cases are represented by law firm Leigh Day.
Mary Westmacott, a solicitor from Leigh Day who is representing the claimants, said:
“Our clients allege they were subjected to significant and prolonged degrading treatment and exploitation. They are looking forward to at last having their day in court. This case raises important issues around modern slavery and the personal liability of the directors and officers of a company employer.”
One of the claimants in these proceedings said: “It’s been such a long time. Now I just want to achieve justice.”