MOTOR giant Ford is embroiled in a legal battle with more than 150 former workers from its closed Southampton plant, the Daily Echo can reveal.

This may be the largest group action brought to date for age discrimination in the private sector, and it is continuing to grow, says the legal firm representing the factory’s ex-employees.

The plant closed last July, five years after the Daily Echo exclusively revealed plans to outsource production of its iconic white van out of Southampton, dubbed “the home of the Transit”, to Ford Otosan Assembly in Kocaeli, Turkey. A spokesman for Prolegal, which represents the group, said each of the three age bands working at the company, categorised as under-45s, 45 to 55, and 55 and older, had concerns about the way the payouts were handled.

This comes despite some walking away with up to £93,000 redundancy deals.

The spokesman added: “Prolegal solicitors has issued proceedings against Ford Motor Company Ltd on behalf of a group of former employees made redundant from the company’s Southampton plant when its Transit van factory started winding down last July.

“It is early days and we have yet to receive Ford’s formal response to the claim. If it goes to tribunal, a hearing would not be expected to take place before the end of this year given the magnitude of the claim, its significance and the number of claimants involved.

“There are more than 150 claimants.

“This is one of the largest – if not the very largest – age discrimination group actions in the private sector ever.”

The claimants are arguing they have been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of age, with older workers receiving a lower rate of redundancy pay per year than younger staff.

However, the younger workers are unhappy, saying they did not get the opportunity to draw on their pensions early.

The Prolegal spokesman added: “The redundancy packages were voluntary, and put to a vote, but rather like the Crimean referendum there was no alternative – in this case only compulsory redundancy packages, which would have meant less money for everyone.

“The claimants are seeking compensation for the discrimination.”

The Daily Echo understands several former workers are also seeking legal advice about individual concerns with the way the closure was handled.

A Ford spokesman said: “This claim is the subject of an employment tribunal and the company’s responses to the claim will be directed to the tribunal.

“In relation to the claim, it should be noted that Ford’s redundancy terms are recognised as being fair and generous.”

One of the workers involved in the action said: “The payouts seemed like a lot, and many spent them like a lottery win, but it is not that much when you consider many of us are not in work now and some of us will never work again.

“We just want the best deal we can get and to be treated fairly.”