According to a recent decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) employers' collective consultation duties can extend not only to the timing and numbers of redundancies, but to the reason for the redundancies themselves. In many cases this may be a distinction without a difference. However, it turned out to be an important point of principle in a case involving the closure of the last deep coal mine in the North East, where the workings extended five miles under the North Sea.

The employers had been losing money on the pit for some time, but the last straw came when it was unexpectedly flooded, leading the employers to close it. They argued that they did not need to consult about the decision to close the pit, but only about the redundancies that followed from that decision. The EAT said this could not be correct in the light of changes to the collective consultation duties made in the mid-Nineties, which made it clear that those duties extended to consulting about ways of avoiding redundancies. In this case it followed that the employers should have consulted about the closure of the pit as, once the decision to close it had been taken, there was no way of avoiding the redundancies.

For the full decision (UK Coal v NUM) click here.