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Court case prompts contract reminder

An Employment Appeals Tribunal case that concluded on 20 January saw a gamekeeper’s dismissal compensation halved and his bonus scrapped due to the ambiguous nature of his verbal contract.

The case has prompted gamekeeping organisations to highlight the need for proper employment contracts.

In January 2008, Sheikh Maher al-Tajir, who owns the 24,000-acre Blackford estate, in Perthshire, was accused of unfairly dismissing his gamekeeper
Chris Mulqueeney, and of reneging on a deal to pay a bonus of 10p per
pheasant shot, which Mr Mulqueeney claimed he was verbally promised.
Though Mr Mulqueeney was originally awarded £13,000 in unpaid bonuses and
compensation for loss of earnings, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled the
compensation should be halved and his bonus scrapped.

In the appeal, the judge, the HonourableLady Smith, found that “matters were left too uncertain to amount to an enforceable contract” and that no bonus should be paid. Helen Benson, of the Gamekeepers’ Welfare Network (GWN), said this case highlights the need for legally binding contracts. She told ST that an alarming number of keepers do not have a contract in place, relying instead on informal agreements: “I would recommend that all shoot employers and gamekeepers adhere to employment law and follow statutory procedures to avoid ambiguity and dispute.

With regard to contractual obligations, there is room for improvement, for example training for headkeepers is woefully inadequate. Employers have a duty of care inherent in the contract of employment and should ensure they are aware of their responsibilities to employees.”

The rest of this article appears in 29 January issue of Shooting Times.

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