Holiday camp operator Butlins could be facing up to a £1m payout to low-paid staff if a verbal ruling becomes official.
A judgment from the Employment Appeals Tribunal has ruled against Butlins and its associated companies Haven Holidays and British Holiday after they deducted a nominal £3 a week from the wages of live-in porters and cleaners for their private energy usage.
If its written judgment reaches the same view and Butlins chooses not to appeal, the company will have to refund those staff paid the national minimum wage who worked across 50 UK sites over the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
The GMB union is trying to trace thousands of former Butlins employees who may be due a refund for heat and lighting bills they paid while living in company accommodation.
The refunds will average £156 for full-time staff and about £90 for seasonal workers.
A spokesman for Butlins warned that scrapping the nominal payment could double the energy bill for live-in staff, as they would then be charged individually at normal commercial rates.
Butlins disputed the GMB's claim that high staff turnover at the holiday parks meant that compensation could reach £1m for 20,000 workers. A spokesman for Butlins said the ruling affected no more than 2,700 staff from a seasonal maximum of 5,400 workers across the three companies.
The GMB is urging Butlins staff to get in touch by e-mailing this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Angela Frewin