A GROUP of distillery workers who were warned their jobs would be subcontracted out if they did not accept a pay offer have secured a significant legal ruling at an employment appeal tribunal.

The judgment has been described as a stark warning to employers over their interaction with trade unions, with Loch Lomond Distillery facing a hefty payout to the 13 staff involved.

The workers, who were outsourced to another firm under Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (Tupe) regulations, won their case because bosses failed to disclose to trade union Unite that the pay dispute was a reason for the transfer.

Lawyer David Martyn, who acted for the distillery staff, said: "This is the first time that a court has made it clear that the obligation to speak to the union isn't just an obligation to say anything you like, it's an obligation to tell the truth.

"It's a significant decision for trade unions and for employers. A lot of employers might treat the need to consult as a bit of a tick-box exercise. They think 'we have to do it but it doesn't really matter what we tell them', but this decisions says otherwise.

"It says if you're not honest and upfront you can be challenged."

During the original employment tribunal in the case, employment judge Fiona Garvie heard that the workers rejected a three per cent pay rise offer despite the threat in June 2012. They notified distillery bosses of strike action, only to be told two days later that their roles were being subcontracted to Peopleforwork Ltd, with the threat of redundancies.

The firm claimed the reason behind the move was a drop in profits, but the tribunal found the pay dispute was also an issue and awarded in favour of the workers, who were claiming there had been a breach of Tupe regulations.

The distillery, which was bought over earlier this year, tried to appeal the decision, but Court of Session judge Lady Stacey upheld the ­original judgment.

Billy Parker, a senior officer for Unite, who raised the case on behalf of the workers, said: "This is a significant victory and it sends out a clear message to employers.

"We're very pleased with the judgment - it was a prolonged issue but now these workers can finally receive some monetary award for what happened to them.

"It also makes a compelling case for the need to properly consult with your workforce and participate fully with the process.

"The decision will help trade unions and employees by telling employers that it's not just a case of going through the motions. They cannot get away with not being candid."

Former distillery employee Brian Kane was made redundant by Peopleforwork following the transfer, along with three other workers.

He claims the dispute with Loch Lomond was not about the money, but the conditions under which he and his colleagues were working.

He said: "We refused the pay rise, but it wasn't really about the pay rise. If we had backed down and agreed at that point, they would have kept making the same threat every time there was an issue, so we had to make a stand."

Mr Kane, 43, of Dumbarton, said he was delighted with the court's decision, adding: "It's taken two years to get to this point, but we're happy with the outcome."

He and his former colleagues will each receive up to 13 weeks' pay. The final amounts will be decided at a future hearing.

A spokesman for Loch Lomond distillery said: "This matter occurred under a previous ­ownership of the business in 2012, and has been between the employees in question and the previous owners."