INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
GROUP SCHNEIDER/TELEMECANIQUE (IRELAND) LIMITED
(REPRESENTED BY THE IRISH BUSINESS AND EMPLOYERS' CONFEDERATION)
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Mr Duffy
Employer Member: Mr Pierce
Worker Member: Mr O'Neill
1. Rehearing arising from LCR15739.
2. A dispute concerning the interpretation of the Company/Union Agreement on shift work was the subject of a Labour Court hearing on the 19th of December, 1997. The Court's recommendation (LCR15739) stated that the parties should immediately begin negotiations for the commencement of shift work by existing employees. If the parties failed to agree an arrangement the issue should be referred back to the Court for a definitive recommendation.
Both parties accepted the recommendation and commenced discussions on the 20th and 27th of January, 1998. They also attended a conciliation conference at the Labour Relations Commission on the 4th of February, 1998. As the parties failed to reach an agreement they referred the dispute back to the Labour Court in accordance with Section 26(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. The Labour Court hearing took place on the 23rd of March, 1998.
3. 1. The workers concerned have been managed as day workers for the past twenty years. While the workers have not changed their position regarding the requirement to work
shift, the Union has put forward the following issues for consideration in an effort to explore a resolution:-
(a) The Company to clarify its statement that Last In First On shift is subject to "essential skills requirement which it saw only arising in limited circumstances".
(b) Red circling of approximately six workers employed in the quarry.
(c) An exit package of 5 weeks' pay per year of service plus entitlements under the Redundancy Payments Act for staff unable to remain with the company.
(d) The option for staff to go on static shift with a static shift premium plus a payment of £50 per year of service.
(e) Payment of £100 per year of service for staff going on a two shift cycle.
(f) The option of an early retirement package.
(g) Continued provision of transport.
(h) Continued access to a doctor on site. The discontinuation of transport facilities and the provision of a doctor would be a worsening of the workers' conditions of employment.
2. The Company should exercise extreme caution in facilitating individual requests from workers to commence part-time working. The facilitation would lead to an ad hoc arrangement which would not resolve the long term issues.
4. 1. With regard to the issues raised by the Union the Company's position is as follows:-
(a) It would appear that a selection procedure can be agreed with some
(b) The Company would be prepared to exclude six employees who have been
employed since 1977 from a future obligation to work shift.
(c) A redundancy situation does not exist as any staff who leave the company would
have to be replaced.
(d) and (e) The Union has sought incentive payments to work shift of between £50 and £100 per year of service yet there are 180 people already working shift without such incentives. The Company already pays top premium and any further concessions would be unfair, unjustifiable
and would create serious employee relations problems.
(f) The Company has provided a subsidised transport service for day workers for
many years. Thirty seven employees use the service at a cost to the Company of £20,000 per annum. Due to the excessive cost of the service and the fact that 180 staff already working on shift have no transport service the Company does not intend to extend the service.
(g) The Company provides the unique benefit of a doctor on site every day. He
attends at the factory from 8.30am to 9.00am and is available at other times for medical requirements/emergencies. The Company does not propose to extend his visiting hours.
2. The Company currently employs 7 part-time workers and has received applications from 7 others to work part-time. By extending the part-time arrangements the Company is addressing the personal circumstances of individuals, is promoting flexible working and, most importantly, is reducing the requirement for people to work shift. Part-time working will not remove the obligation to work shift at some point in the future if operational circumstances warrant it. However, part-time workers would not be covered under the LIFO selection procedure as they are working under a different agreement.
A central feature of this dispute relates to the terms of a pre-production agreement made between the Company and the former Irish Transport and General Workers' Union in 1976. While up-dated a number of times and reproduced (with some minor amendments) in what is known as “ The Blue Book” in 1979, this agreement remains the basic determinant of conditions of employment for hourly paid employees of the Company.
In relevant part this agreement provides as follows;
- “ It is a condition of employment that employees work on a two, three or four shift system when required to do so.........”
The language of this agreement is clear and allows for no interpretation other than that employees encompassed by it can be required to work on shift, involuntarily if necessary. The Union does not dispute the literal meaning of the agreement but points to what it regards as the established practice by which workers were transferred from day work to shift working in support of its contention that those involved with this claim should not be forced to work shifts. It cites also the length of time that the group concerned have worked exclusively on days (a minimum of 10 years).
From an industrial relations perspective the manner in which an agreement is applied over time is often at least as important as the actual written terms. In this case it is clear that while the agreement gave the Company authority to require employees to take up shiftworking, the consistent practice hitherto has been to do so on a voluntary basis in respect of staff employed prior to 1988 (at which point more precise letters of appointment were introduced). Thus it is argued that those involved have been de-facto day workers for periods in excess of ten years and that it is now unreasonable to expect them to transfer to shift work.
If considered in isolation from other relevant factors this line of argument would be fully sustainable. However, it is accepted that the commercial requirements of the business have changed and, in consequence, it is no longer possible to rely exclusively on a voluntary approach amongst those employed prior to 1988 in meeting the Company's present requirements for additional shift working. In that context, the custom and practice, no matter how deeply rooted, cannot off-set or supplant the clear written terms of the agreement or preclude the Company from applying those terms so as to meet its current commercial needs.
Nonetheless, in implementing the agreement the requirements of good industrial relations places an obligation on the Company to have full regard to past practice including the de-facto status which that practice afforded to the employees concerned. Regard must also be had to the social and personal disruption which changed attendance patterns will have on the individuals affected.
In these circumstances, and on the basis that the interpretation of the agreement is not in doubt, the Court recommends that requirement for additional shift working be met as follows:-
1. In the first instance the Company should again seek volunteers to transfer from day work to shift work. In the event of this option not meeting its requirements, the following alternatives should be put in place;
2. The Company should seek to maximise the opportunities for part-time working, subject to its requirements, and should offer this option on a voluntary basis to existing staff. Employees who accept this option, and who have been employed exclusively on day work, in a full time capacity, for a period of ten years or more, should in this instance, receive a once-off ex-gratia payment of £100 per year of service.
3. If the Company's needs are not fully met by either of these options, employees employed prior to 1988 may be allocated to shift work on a Last In First On basis. Where any employee selected on that basis can show that in their particular circumstances there are compelling reasons as to why they are unable to accept shift-working, a severance package, to be agreed between the parties, should be made available. Any dispute arising in respect of any individual in relation to the applicability of the agreed package should be referred to an agreed Arbitrator for final decision.
The Company should explore, as a matter of urgency, the possibility of assisting in the provision of transport facilities, where necessary, to cover workers transferring to shift work after 10+ years on day work.
The Court notes that the Company has agreed to exclude from shift liability the group previously employed in the “Quarry”.
NoteThe references to “ten years” in this recommendation relate to the date of introduction of revised letters of appointment explicitly specifying a liability to shift-working.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
9th April, 1998______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Dympna Greene, Court Secretary.