I worked for the Stewart Milne Group for over 28 years, doing several jobs during that time.
First, I was a maintenance foreman, working on projects including schools, office blocks and public buildings contracts across Aberdeen. More recently, working in customer care on new built homes, the job took me to areas stretching from Elgin in Moray to Auchterarder in Perthshire.
We all knew that the business was up for sale. But not for one second did I or any of my colleagues see the speedy and horrible collapse of the firm coming, especially when many of us had worked for the company for so long.
On January 8, a colleague and I headed to Dundee as part of normal return-to-work duties after the new year. We were visiting a home in Ballumbie. During the day, we started to hear rumours that Stewart Milne Homes in England was possibly going into receivership. This was at around 2pm, but we had still heard nothing coming from our office.
After finishing up at 4:15pm, I headed to get some fuel so I could make my way home. It was only then that I realised something was seriously wrong with the company in Scotland.
My company fuel card was declined at the petrol station. Alarm bells were ringing. I contacted our office to report this and got no reply. I eventually received a message to say someone would be in touch.
Six words turned my life upside down
I got home just before 6pm. Minutes later, I received a phone call from a company director asking if I was “still stuck in the petrol station in Dundee?” I said no, and that I had filled in a form for my fuel, leaving company details.
Now was my chance to ask the director what was happening, as I had still received no word from the company regarding the rumours circulating that the business was in deep trouble. I was informed that there had just been a notice posted on the internal group announcements. I responded that, as far as I was aware, nobody from the maintenance department was able to access this.
Then six words came my way which have turned my life upside down: “You are all redundant from tonight.” I was absolutely devastated by news, and I still am.
Friends and work colleagues then told me that it had in fact been announced on the six o’clock news. The media knew before I did that the company had been placed into administration and that I had lost my job. It is an absolutely shocking way to treat people.
Now, many of us are having to scramble for money and access life savings to make ends meet. To date, I have received next to no help, other than from the trade union, Unite, which has helped me to lodge a protective award claim against the Stewart Milne Group for failing to consult the workforce in a redundancy situation.
I am extremely grateful to Unite for the help I have received, especially when no other organisation has reached out to help the workforce get some justice.
Directors at the Stewart Milne Group should hang their heads in shame
Any financial compensation that I eventually receive, however, will be a small crumb of comfort. I don’t know what my future now holds, or whether I will be able to keep on staying where I live if a new job doesn’t come quickly.
These are the human consequences hundreds of workers are now facing. The directors at the Stewart Milne Group should hang their heads in shame for the personal tragedies they have unleashed without any want or care.
Richard Finlay is a former foreman for Stewart Milne Construction