INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 13(9), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1969
LETTERKENNY REGIONAL TECHNICAL COLLEGE
- AND -
IRISH MUNICIPAL, PUBLIC AND CIVIL TRADE UNION
Chairman: Mr Flood
Employer Member: Mr Brennan
Worker Member: Ms Ni Mhurchu
1. Appeal against Rights Commissioner's Recommendation No. DC/93/96.
2. The dispute concerns one worker who has worked in an administrative capacity for the College, since 1981. Whilst undertaking a degree course in recent years, the worker was given support by the College, both financially and in terms of time off. The College, however, had declined to offer support to him in relation to an MBA course which he was pursuing at Magee College, Derry, part of the University of Ulster.
Having been accepted by the University, the worker first requested leave of absence for the appropriate hours, in September, 1995, in order to attend lectures in Derry, on Monday afternoons, for 24 weeks per year over a period of two years. He had offered to make up the hours involved at times suitable to the College.
The College rejected his request and the matter was referred to a Rights Commissioner, who carried out an investigation in November, 1996. The Union claimed that, since commencing the course, the worker had pursued his studies despite missing a significant proportion of his lectures. He had managed to pass his exams so far but was asking the College for greater flexibility with regards to his attendance at work.
The College responded that the question of support for attendance on courses is a discretionary matter for the College and that each case is examined on its merits. The worker's application for further assistance had been rejected having first being examined in the context of a number of criteria. The worker was also pursuing a second Masters Degree at the time and was being supported by the College for that course.
Following his investigation, the Rights Commissioner found that there was no entitlement to the kind of support requested by the worker, but that there was an expectation on the part of employees of a reasonable amount of support in such cases. He found, further, that the worker could have requested assistance earlier than he had done and also that he is now in the position where he is attempting to complete a course which both his University and the Department of Education believe to be relevant to staff in his position.
The Rights Commissioner recommended that the College should recognise the remarkable enthusiasm for self-improvement shown by the worker and should facilitate him in a practical way for the remaining months of the course, any such support to be seen as a goodwill gesture. He also recommended that the College should inform its staff of the criteria used in assessing requests for assistance relating to courses and should make clear that such requests should be made well in advance of the commencement of the course.
The Recommendation was appealed by the College, on the 28th of January, 1997, in accordance with Section 13(9) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969. The Court heard the appeal, in Donegal, on the 8th of May, 1997.
3. 1. The worker has not been discriminated against. Support for attendance at courses is a discretionary matter for the College and no automatic entitlement exists.
2. Each application made to the College from a member of staff is considered on its merits against certain criteria which would be standard in any comparable organisation including:-
The relevance of the course to the current post of the applicant
The relevance of the course to future requirements of the College
Previous assistance given to the individual
The status of the individual (temporary or permanent)
The level of absenteeism
Other courses the applicant is involved in
Alternative courses available
The total budget available in the College for refund of fees, and the number of applicants
The views of the supervisor on the implications for the workings of the section.
The worker's application was considered on the above basis and was rejected.
3. The College believes that the worker should have sought its approval before entering into a commitment. This is clearly a condition under Department of Education Circular F54/85.
4. The College fully supported the worker while undertaking a BA in Public Administration. Such support, since 1991, included considerable time off work and financial support both in terms of refund of fees totalling £2,900 and travel and subsistence totalling £1,117.38.
5. During 1994, the worker was absent for 67 working days, in 1995 for 100.5 working days and in 1996 for 58 working days.
6. The worker is currently enrolled for a Masters Degree under the Training for Trainers programme. He is still pursuing this course and the outlay of the College in respect of travel and subsistence to date has been £1,653.93. By virtue of the worker's employment in the College no fees are payable in respect of the course.
7. While acknowledging the worker's right to pursue ambitions with regard to his personal development, his primary duty is to his post. Part of the duties of that assignment required him to take responsibility for the College's examinations which were scheduled to take place during the same period as his own examinations.
8. No further application has been received from the worker in relation to the Masters Degree in question other than for a refund of the fees in respect of year one. He has, however, applied, and been supported by the College, for a second year on the Masters Degree under the Training for Trainers programme.
9. The Rights Commissioner may have given undue weight to the predicament the worker has found himself in, a predicament entirely created by himself. The recommendation of the Rights Commissioner is open to the interpretation, and has been portrayed as evidence, that the College somehow acted improperly in this matter.
10. It is implicit in the Rights Commissioner's Recommendation that the worker may have been unaware of the necessity to apply in advance to be supported on a training course. The College believes that he was, or should have been, aware of this requirement.
11. The College is concerned that a precedent has been set which will mean that, in future, it will be impossible to refuse support to any member of staff regardless of the circumstances of the application.
4. 1. The only concession being sought by the worker from the College is flexibility in relation to working time. He has been willing at all stages to make up the hours involved. The service requirements in the office in which he is employed would facilitate hours being worked outside of normal working hours. On numerous occasions in the past the worker has had to work for the College outside of normal 9 to 5 rosters. The only additional time off being sought by the worker was in respect of exam leave for two three-hour modules throughout the course of the year.
2. While acknowledging that the worker was previously facilitated by the College in pursuing a BA in Public Administration, concessions made were neither more nor less than those provided for under a Department of Education circular and have been accorded to a number of staff within the College.
3. A number of staff members have been facilitated by the College a second time in order to attain additional qualifications (details supplied to the Court).
4. When the worker's claim was first submitted, the College responded that his application could be considered on a future occasion. The College failed to take account of the fact that it can be extremely difficult to secure a place on the MBA Course and deferring the course for a further year would have significantly disadvantaged the worker as, in future years, he would not be able to secure an exemption for his primary degree
5. The claim by the College that the MBA would not be relevant to the worker in his employment as a Staff Officer is implausible and is at variance with the policies pursued by equivalent public service employers like Donegal County Council and the North Western Health Board who have sponsored their own staff on the MBA course.
6. The staffing structure within the worker's section is adequate and sufficiently flexible to allow concession of the claim. On numerous occasions in the past he has responded with goodwill to requests by the College to provide a service after hours but on this occasion the goodwill is not being reciprocated by the College.
7. The merits of an MBA for public service workers has been recognised by numerous Public Service employers and this worker is willing to apply the benefits acquired through pursuing this course of study in his existing career and in any future career moves within the College. Consequently, there are benefits to be gained by the College.
8. The worker's grievance at being denied support for his MBA could have been satisfactorily dealt with by the College 18 months ago when the Union and the worker put forward constructive and positive suggestions in relation to the various reservations the College had.
9. It is just and reasonable that the worker should receive, from the College, concessions in relation to financial support, leave in respect of lecture attendance in Derry and retrospective concessionary leave in respect of personal leave taken in pursuit of this Court case.
The Court is of the view that the Rights Commissioner's Recommendation is reasonable in the circumstances. However, problems seem to have arisen in relation to arriving at an agreement locally on facilitating the claimant "in a practical way for the remaining months of the course", in recognition of his enthusiasm for self-development.
The Court upholds the Rights Commissioner's Recommendation but amends that part of the Recommendation as follows:-
- "The claimant should be credited with six days' leave in full and final settlement of his claim".
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
4th of June, 1997______________________
Enquiries concerning this Decision should be addressed to Michael Keegan, Court Secretary.