Serious questions continue to be asked into allegations that the owner of Lunar Automotive, previously based in Preston, has not paid his workforce to the tune of about £170,000 while they have been furloughed.
The company has now relocated to The Squires in Blackpool with the remaining workers threatened with the possibility of redundancy and, if they keep their jobs, it will be on inferior ‘fire and rehire’ terms.
Unite the union wants HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to probe the business affairs of the company’s owner Nicholas Marks into allegations that he claimed money from the taxpayer-funded job retention scheme (JRS), but did not pass onto the 45-strong workforce (since reduced to about 20) who have not been paid since August last year.
Unite said today (March 1) that Mr Marks has ‘gone to ground’ and that the union had 27 outstanding employment tribunal claims against the company, including breach of contract and unlawful deduction of wages.
Unite understands that the company was evicted from its Preston site for failing to meet its commitments to the landlord and has now decamped to Blackpool 14 miles away.
The activities of Nicholas Marks were raised in the Commons recently by Iain Duncan Smith over a social enterprise called Clarity Products employing those with disabilities which was taken over by Mr Marks a year ago.
‘Vulnerable’ staff not paid
The former Tory leader said that many of the ‘decent, but very vulnerable people’ at Clarity had not received their wages nor support for childcare and national insurance contributions have not been paid. The sum totalled £200,000, MPs were told.
“The affairs of Lunar Automotive and its elusive owner Nicholas Marks are raising serious questions about what has been happening; not only have our members not being paid since last August, but a great deal of the hard-pressed taxpayers’ money needs to be properly accounted for,” commented Unite regional officer Dave Kennedy.
“The company called a meeting in early February for the remaining employees, which number about 20, and they were told there was the possibility of redundancies as the company had moved to Blackpool. They were also told that there would be a policy of ‘fire and rehire’.
“Unite has had great difficulty in trying to establish a coherent and constructive dialogue with the company’s senior executives and Mr Marks himself seems to have ‘gone to ground’.
“We are still calling for HMRC and The Pensions Regulator (TPR) to conduct urgent investigations into the affairs of Nicholas Marks. Our members at Lunar Automotive are owed up to £170,000 in unpaid wages.
“HMRC and TPR needs to investigate the non-payment of JRS wages, plus the whereabouts of our members’ pension contributions from August 2019 to the present day which appear to have disappeared into thin air.
“Serious questions need to be asked about Mr Marks’ fitness to hold company directorships,” added Kennedy.
Unite said that the company, previously known as Lunar Caravans, was taken over by Mr Marks in August 2019, but no caravans have been produced since then. The workforce was furloughed in March last year, and the equipment and machinery moved to Blackpool.
Support for the workers has come from Preston’s MP Sir Mark Hendrick who has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and HMRC about ‘their employer withholding furlough money and pension contributions’.
By Shaun Noble