FORMER county council care workers based at homes across Essex have won a near £1million settlement after claiming they were unlawfully dismissed.

Unions Unison and GMB reached the agreement with Excelcare for 115 of its members halfway through a two-week tribunal hearing at Bury St Edmunds.

Payouts, approved by the tribunal judge, range from around £1,000 to more than £30,000 and total £983,000.

The former Essex County Council workers claimed they were dismissed in 2006 for not accepting pay cuts of up to 40 per cent and other changes to their working conditions after Excelcare took control of ten care homes in the county.

While most refused to accept the new contracts, some did and were also entitled to compensation as a result of the agreement.

The care workers were based in homes in Benfleet, Colchester, Dovercourt, Brentwood, Maldon and Chelmsford, which were transferred in 2005. At the tribunal, Excelcare claimed after the transfer it realised the running costs were higher than Essex County Council had told them, which meant they had to impose new contracts or the homes would have to close.

Anne Vinden, regional head of local government at Unison, praised the dedication of the workers, solicitors and regional officer Michelle Bradley from seeing the lengthy case through to its conclusion.

She said: “We’re absolutely delighted we have managed to get this compensation for members.

“I feel very pleased on behalf of this group, because they are low-paid members who work incredibly hard and do an absolutely vital job for society.

“I think they deserve to be treated legally and properly and this is what we have achieved.”

Michael Ainsley, from GMB, said: “Although GMB is pleased the case is settled we will continue to monitor Excelcare wherever they turn up next to ensure they can never do the same to more care workers.

“If these 30 GMB members had not been trade union members with the power and funding of the GMB behind them they would not have got justice.”

No one from Essex County Council was available to comment.

Meanwhile, a former Excelcare worker has said the payout cannot make up for her colleagues’ lost earnings and years of heartache.

Denise Yapp, 60, of Selbourne Avenue, Thundersley, was among the 30 women to be awarded the money for being unfairly dismissed.

The women were transferred to the employment of Excelcare in 2005 when Essex County Council sold off its ten care homes to the company for less than £50,000 each.

Mrs Yapp worked as a care leader at the firm’s Goldenley care home, in Richmond Avenue, Benfleet. She said: “It took four and a half years of my life and many of my colleagues suffered a great deal.

“I had people in tears. Some even lost their homes because they couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage.

“We are pleased we got some money out of it.”

Mrs Yapp quit her job in 2007 after rejecting the firm’s offer of a new contract.

The new conditions would have seen her pay cut by 40 per cent and forced her to work long shifts.

She said the company’s behaviour had been appalling. She added: “It was obvious their business plan was just to get rid of many of the staff as possible.”

As part of her work as a shop steward for union Unison, Mrs Yapp travelled to five of the Essex care homes Excelcare had taken over. She said the standard of care in all of them had slipped.

She said: “With all the cut backs things just deteriorated.”

A spokesman for Excelcare said: “Goldenley Care Centre has a good star rating from the regulatory body Care Quality Commission. Goldenley is visited on a regular basis by the Essex County Council home monitoring team and has received commendations for its good performance standards. Goldenley has a few long-term staff who were recruited from outside the United Kingdom.

“There is no problem with their work status or their command of English.”