INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 20(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1969
HOLMES, O'MALLEY, SEXTON, SOLICITORS
- AND -
Chairman: Ms Jenkinson
Employer Member: Mr McHenry
Worker Member: Mr O'Neill
1. Salary increase for a Legal Secretary.
2. The Company is a law firm which has been in operation in Limerick since the early 1970s. The dispute concerns a claim lodged by the Union on 14th of May, 1998, on behalf of a legal secretary who commenced her employment with the Company in 1980, for an increase in her salary from £12,324 to £15,000. The claim was rejected.
The Union indicated that in early 1998 when the worker had sought an increase, she was advised that she would receive only a 2% "cost of living" increase. The Union added that, following its claim in May, 1998, the Company stated that it was not prepared to make any change to the worker's salary before the next year's annual review, adding, subsequently, that it saw no basis for an adjustment at that time.
The Union sought to have the matter investigated by a Rights Commissioner but the Company declined to attend such an investigation. The Union referred the matter to the Labour Court, on the 10th of August, 1998, in accordance with Section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969. The Court carried out its investigation, in Limerick, on the 25th of November, 1998.
1. The worker is a highly qualified and experienced Legal Secretary. Her salary of £12,324 is considerable less than the salaries of a number of her colleagues. There seems to be no substantive reason for the considerable difference in the salary levels. Salary levels are decided arbitrarily and, accordingly, the worker in question has not been fairly treated.
2. Legal Secretaries to partners currently receive a salary of £15,600 per annum. The worker has been working for a partner up until recently. She is now working for an assistant solicitor following the return to work of the partner's secretary who was on maternity leave. Despite her ability and flexibility she is receiving a salary over £3,000 less than partner's secretaries' salaries.
3. Legal secretaries to assistant solicitors are receiving a higher salary, even though they have less experience and less service. One legal secretary with eight years' service is receiving £14,000 per annum. Two other legal secretaries with seven years' service are receiving £13,500 per annum.
4. Regarding the payment of Christmas bonus, the worker is also treated differently, if not unfairly. Last Christmas, most of the legal secretaries received a bonus of £650, while her bonus was only £400. In 1996, the worker received a Christmas bonus of £300 while legal secretaries to assistant solicitors received a Christmas bonus of £650. There is no logical or rational explanation for the substantial differences in payments. When the worker raised the bonus issue with the firm, she did not get a satisfactory response.
5. Salary levels of legal secretaries in the Company are decided arbitrarily, without there being proper recognition of expertise and experience. There is no proper salary structure in place, which would command the support of all the secretarial staff. The way the worker has been treated is manifestly unfair, both in terms of her salary and the payment of the Christmas bonus.
6. The Company's attempt to discredit the worker's performance by raising extraneous matters, none of which were raised when the claim for an increase in pay was made, is rejected.
1. The Company operates a merit-based system for promoting and salary review. All staff received a cost of living salary increase each year. Junior staff commence on a low level of salary which increases depending on their abilities and the nature of work done by them. The worker's salary has also increased from her commencing rate to her current rate based on her abilities. Her salary is reviewed every year and if her work performance improves she will be considered for a salary increase. There is no implied contractual term at common law nor is there any custom, practice or usage in this jurisdiction that employees should automatically receive a salary increase, even a cost of living increase. If an employer is to have credibility among its employees it must operate such a merit-based system for promotions and salary increases.
2. The worker's performance has been unsatisfactory in a number of respects from 1986 to date. She has been unable to deal with the volume of work put her way and has shown little initiative, being slow to learn, and lacking the degree of urgency required of a legal secretary. Over the years, the worker has lacked ambition and motivation, appearing distracted and requiring supervision. She falls short of the standard expected of a legal secretary in the Company.
3. Notwithstanding the worker's shortcomings, there has been a general reluctant acceptance of her work standards. It is accepted that she is a very nice and pleasant person. However, her standards dictate that she can only work for apprentices and solicitors at junior level. Since she joined the Company, secretaries more junior in terms of years and experience have progressed to work for solicitors or partners. Such promotions are based on ability to do the job and work performance. Good legal secretaries are hard to come by and, consequently, are very quickly identified by those who require a secretary and then promoted. The worker has never been thus identified.
The Court considered the written and oral submissions made by the parties and has come to the view that there is a need to formalise procedures within the Company so that such procedures are transparent and incorporate a right of appeal. The method of pay review currently in operation appears to be haphazard and overly subjective. The Court recommends that a more formal, transparent pay review procedure should be put in place before the next pay review takes place in April, 1999. This procedure should then be communicated, with details of the right of appeal.
In the case of this claimant, she should be given an opportunity to perform in accordance with the Company's expectation, by informing her of these expectations. The Court recommends that as her rate of pay was not increased in line with national pay agreements for the past number of years, it should now be retrospectively increased in line with such pay agreements, back to April, 1987.
Following her pay review in April, 1999, if the claimant believes that her salary is not reflective of her performance and is not in accordance with the newly formalised pay review procedure, then the issue may be referred back to the Labour Court.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
16th December, 1998.______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Michael Keegan, Court Secretary.