The boss of a clinical waste firm that ceased trading has insisted he is still fighting for his staff – despite none of them receiving redundancy payments.
All 400 staff at Healthcare Environmental Services were given redundancy notices last week.
They have not been paid wages that are due to them – and cannot receive redundancy money because the company has not yet declared insolvency.
Managing director Garry Pettigrew said he hoped the company could survive.
Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he said there had been “four or five” potential buyers for the business over the past month and a half.
And he pledged to “never throw in the towel” and to continue fighting to save the company “to the very end until there’s no breath left in me”.
HES lost its contracts with NHS Scotland and 17 NHS trusts in England last year after it was found to be stockpiling clinical waste – with Mr Pettigrew blaming the UK government for the company going out of business.
Staff at the North Lanarkshire-based company did not receive their wages for last month on 28 December, with the company claiming it was unable to pay them what they are due. They were subsequently all given redundancy notices.
The workers have also been told they cannot claim statutory redundancy from the UK-wide Redundancy Payment Service without a reference number from an insolvency practitioner – which Mr Pettigrew has not yet appointed.
One HES driver, who did not want to be named, told BBC Scotland earlier this week that his colleagues were “skint”, with some being forced to use foodbanks to feed their families.
Mr Pettigrew claimed to have been “distraught” about this and said that “no-one has been paid, including the management team”.
But he strongly denied he had let his “brilliant” staff down, and said they had always been paid on time during the company’s 23 years in business.
Mr Pettigrew said: “The reality is the company is still trying to survive and also find a buyer. Obviously buyers have been kept away from us by the UK government because they keep telling the buyers to wait until we go under.
“My job is to make sure the business survives, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do this since all this media nonsense broke out.”
When asked how long it would be before he gave up on attempting to find a buyer and declared insolvency so workers could get the money that is owed to them, he said: “I will never throw in the towel”.
Mr Pettigrew added: “I owe it to everyone to make sure this business survives and believe it or not I’m still fighting for the workers. I’m still fighting for this business and I will do that to the very end until there’s no breath left in me.
“But it’s not a case of me giving in to the government to suit their needs. This is a business that has been a success story – a multi-award-winning business for 23 years up until the fifth of October 2018, when the UK government decided that they wanted us gone.
“I have no qualms about the fight that we are putting together and we will continue that. If the government has a problem they need to step in here and actually pay our workers what they are legally entitled to within the payment protection scheme.”
The UK government’s environment agency has previously told the BBC that HES had “significantly and repeatedly breached its environmental permits by storing excess waste at a number of its sites”.
And it has said it took enforcement action and launched a criminal investigation after the company “continued to operate unlawfully”.
Workers have previously raised concerns about a build up of waste at the company’s main plant at Shotts, in North Lanarkshire. It also has 10 regional centres across the UK.
In Scotland, the NHS is now dealing with clinical waste under contingency plans until a new contract starts in April, while in England Mitie has taken over some health service contracts previously held by HES.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is monitoring conditions at Shotts and at the firm’s other Scottish site in Dundee.
Sepa issued enforcement notices against HES on 12 September and 11 December, and last week said it was investigating whether criminal offences had been committed.
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