Threat of legal action as Edinburgh burger bar staff sacked
Legal action is being considered against the owner of a burger restaurant who sacked staff without pay just weeks before Christmas.
Burger, in Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge district, closed last Saturday without warning and ten staff were told they had lost their jobs from that evening.
Unite the Union said it was considering legal action against owner Evan Wells, who owes workers two weeks’ pay, plus statutory benefits.
Some of them had already been transferred from the St Andrews branch of the chain owned by Wells after it shut down in September. The company’s only other branch, in Newcastle, also closed after trading for just a few months earlier this year.
Wells, who sold gourmet burgers for around £9 each at Burger, had previously been quoted as planning to expand the business to 30 units across Scotland and the north of England by 2020.
Morgan Tooth, spokesman for Unite, said staff had been informed during their shift through a phone call to managers that the restaurant would close at 6pm on Saturday. He said: “Burger in Fountainbridge closed down on Saturday with only a few hours notice to staff, leaving them unemployed and without their wages or holiday pay just before Christmas, one of the most financially taxing times of year. This is in breach of the statutory notice period of one week, which means they have been wrongfully dismissed.
“They have received no written notice, simply a phone call from Evan Wells, the owner, claiming that he was unable to pay for a renewal of public liabilities insurance. We are sceptical of this, as he closed down his St Andrews unit in October in almost identical circumstances, and currently still runs a franchise from the kitchen at the Melville bar on William Street in the West End. We will be speaking to staff there to make sure this doesn’t happen to them.
“We will be seeking to recover the money our members are owed, and an apology for his flagrant disregard for their legal rights and financial wellbeing at this time of year.”
James Galbraith, who was employed full-time as the kitchen manager at Burger, is owed £600 in wages, as well as a week’s holiday.
He said: “I woke up on Saturday morning to a message from Evan Wells telling me not to go in for my evening shift because the restaurant would close at 6pm. When I phoned him back, he said it was because he couldn’t get insurance, but then said the company would go into liquidation.
“I’ve bought a house, so I’ve got mortgage payments to make and I’m getting married in April. It couldn’t be worse timing.”
American-born Wells, who is listed on Companies House as a director of five companies, also runs the kitchen at the Melville pub in Edinburgh’s West End.
A company of which he is listed as a director called Burger (Fountainbridge) is still active, according to Companies House, but is four months overdue to file accounts.
Burger was given a “striking off notice” by Companies House in October with notice to dissolve the firm – however this was later retracted after the government agency said “cause had been shown why the... company should not be struck off the register”.
The same applies to another company where Wells is listed as the only director registered as “Burger One”.
However, Wells said that the firm was due to go into liquidation.
He said: “The company is being put into liquidation and the staff will get their money in due course.
“Staff are always preferred creditors.”