INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 13(9), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1969
ANGLO CELT/CELTRIM LIMITED
(REPRESENTED BY DOLAN COSGROVE AND COMPANY, SOLICITORS)
Chairman: Ms Owens
Employer Member: Mr Brennan
Worker Member: Mr Rorke
1. Appeal by two workers against Rights Commissioner's Recommendation No. DC 52/96 and DC 53/96.
2. The appeal concerns two workers who are employed by the Company as litho printers. In March, 1995 the Company advised the workers that it had obtained a new contract for the printing of the Dundalk Democrat and that the workers concerned would be obliged to work overtime on Friday evenings. Management maintained that the two workers were obliged to undertake the overtime work under the provisions of the National Agreement between the printing trade and the workers' union - the G.P.M.U. The two workers contended that they were not obliged, under their contracts of employment, to undertake regular Friday overtime but they did so claiming that they were faced with dismissal if they refused. Management issued the threats of dismissal by letters sent to the two workers in September and October, 1995. It was not possible to resolve the issues in dispute through local level negotiations and the dispute was referred to a Rights Commissioner for investigation. On the 23rd October, 1996 the Rights Commissioner issued his recommendation as follows:-
".............. In summary therefore although I am of the opinion that the claimants did not have substantive grounds for complaint I nevertheless recommend the following, as a settlement of this dispute;
(a) As a gesture of goodwill and in the interests of restoring amicable relationships between Management and the claimants, Anglo Celt Ltd. should without prejudice agree to withdraw the letters of warning issued to the two workers.
(b) In return, both claimants must fully recognise that their terms and conditions of employment are those obtaining in the IMPA/GPMU National Agreement, and consequently they should agree to continue to work their existing level of overtime.
(c) In the event of possible future difficulties in this area, both parties recognise the GPMU as the appropriate body to progress any such complaints, and I also ask the Union, in such event, to ensure that the interests of individual members involved, be duly represented".
(The workers were named in the Rights Commissioner's Recommendation). On the 3rd December, 1996 the workers, through their legal representatives, appealed the Recommendation to the Labour Court. The Court heard the appeal on the 26th March, 1997.
3. 1. The Employer threatened the two workers concerned with dismissal in a series of intimidatory letters which were unjustified and unwarranted. The workers were written to in an attempt to pressurise them into changing their Contracts of Employment. In his findings and Recommendation the Rights Commissioner took no cognisance of these threats and his perception, that the workers' complaints were based on levels of overtime required by the Company, was erroneous.
2. The workers sought the assistance of their Union at the outset of the dispute. This was not forthcoming.
3. The workers reject Management's claim that their absence from overtime jeopardised an important contract. It is common practice for one worker to operate the web offset machine and no job is considered to be in jeopardy because only one worker operates it. If the employer considered the contract to be in jeopardy Management could easily have contacted either worker to clear up any misunderstandings relating to overtime on that evening. It is not uncommon for workers to be contacted at home to return to work. The workers concerned were advised 3 days later (by letter) that they had "jeopardised the single largest printing contract" the Company had by not returning after tea on 25th September, 1995.
4. The workers concerned have worked overtime whenever requested to do so. They are committed to working a minimum of 6 hours' overtime per week. It is totally unfair and unreasonable of the Company to issue unwarranted warnings to the workers. The workers were shocked when they received two letters (2nd November and 14th November) containing amendments to their contracts which were to be signed by them under penalty of dismissal.
5. The workers concerned have consistently sought an interpretation of Rule 4 of the National Agreement in relation to overtime. They accepted that if it required them to work systematic overtime in an unlimited degree they would certainly do so. This legal interpretation has never been provided.
6. The workers had, and still have, no difficulty in working extra overtime. They contend that clarification is sought as to whether they are obliged to work it, but they do so. The workers insist that the letters issued to them were unjustified and should be withdrawn from their files. They have long service and are excellent workers. They are prepared to negotiate any new work practices with the employer but cannot accept these under threat.
4. 1. The repeated refusal of the two workers to work reasonable and necessary overtime required by production demands had very serious consequences for 8 permanent jobs should the contract be lost. In the light of this intransigence Management decided that dismissal was the only option and so advised the workers by letter. The last minute agreement of the employees to work the required overtime was only given because of the threat of dismissal.
2. The workers remained convinced that they had a right to refuse any systematic overtime despite the clear and repeated warnings given by their own Union Representative, that the National Agreement as interpreted by the Union and Management, and universally so interpreted and worked in all companies party to the agreement, must be honoured by them as it was by all other GPMU members in the Company.
3. In the (CAO Guide) incident of 25th September, 1995 both workers and all members of the press crew were informed in the morning that the contract job (known as the CAO Guide) had to be completed. The two workers concerned failed to return for work after tea. All other personnel engaged in the production returned after tea and completed the job. The workers' conduct on this occasion gravely jeopardised a most important contract and fully justified Management's letters of threats of dismissal.
4. Management contends that it cannot manage if reasonable overtime necessary to meet production requirements cannot be relied upon but is given only as a matter of courtesy and therefore withdrawable at any time.
5. Where a dispute in relation to overtime is not reached at House level the conciliation procedures in the National Agreement may be invoked by either side. This was done by Management after GPMU senior officials could not persuade their two members that overtime should be worked. Subsequent meetings were held to which the 2 workers were invited to attend. They did not do so. Subsequently the Rights Commissioner's hearing was held.
6. The Company accepted the Rights Commissioner's Recommendation. However Management felt that the terminology of his proposals regarding overtime where they referred to their existing level of overtime, could easily give rise to future disputes as no overtime was being worked in October and before, and it was not expected that the Friday overtime would be required again for this contract. The right of management to have the Friday overtime worked if necessary must be preserved.
Having considered the submissions from the parties the Court has concluded that the Rights Commissioner's Recommendation is reasonable in the circumstances and should be accepted by both parties.
The Court accordingly rejects the appeal and upholds the Rights Commissioner's Recommendation. The Court so decides.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
2nd April, 1997______________________
Enquiries concerning this Decision should be addressed to Tom O'Dea, Court Secretary.