INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
WILLIAM CONNOLLY AND SONS LIMITED
(REPRESENTED BY THE IRISH BUSINESS AND EMPLOYERS' CONFEDERATION)
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Mr Duffy
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Mr O'Neill
1. Warning letter.
2. The Company is involved in the processing of a variety of animal feedstuffs mainly for the Irish market. It employs approximately 100 workers and is located in Goresbridge, Co. Kilkenny.
The dispute before the Court concerns a written warning (details supplied to the Court) issued to a worker following an incident which took place on the 11th of July, 1995. On the day in question the operations manager noticed that a quantity of grain was strewn around the entrance of the Flaking Plant and close to the mouth of a hopper for that area. It was a wet day and that maize was exposed to the rain. The operations manager asked the worker concerned to sweep the maize into the hopper. The worker later confirmed that he had carried out the instruction.
The Company claims that the worker failed to carry out the instruction and left the hopper intake area in an unacceptable condition.
The Union argues that the warning was unwarranted and unjustified and is seeking that the warning will not feature on the worker's personnel file or be used by the Company to his detriment in the future.
Local level discussions failed to resolve the issue and the matter was referred to the Labour Relations Commission. A conciliation conference took place on the 1st of February, 1996. As agreement could not be reached the dispute was referred to the Labour Court on the 4th of October, 1996 under Section 26(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. A Labour Court hearing took place in Kilkenny on the 27th of May, 1998, the first date suitable to both parties.
3. 1. It was never the worker's intention to refuse to carry out the manager's instruction. He carried out the instruction by sweeping the maize in under the protection of the intake canopy which was his understanding of the instruction. He removed the maize from the yard and protected it from the rain as instructed. Prior to leaving the premises he informed the manager that he had carried out the job in question.
2. The Company was critical of the worker for failing to put the maize into the hopper. An experienced operator would not do this. To place wet maize in to the hopper would cause operational problems by sticking and clogging up the system.
3. The Company failed to investigate the incident properly and it was unable to explain its actions towards the worker. According, to its warning letter, it requested him to make sure that the maize was 'swept in'. He was not asked to sweep the wet maize into the hopper, yet he was warned for not doing so.
4. The Union rejects the Company's accusation of insubordination. In order for a warning letter or any other stages of a disciplinary procedure to be valid some offence must exist. No offence was committed.
5. The Union made every effort to resolve this matter. It contends that the worker would have been guilty regardless of which action he had taken on the day in question. In the circumstances the Union is seeking that the Court declares the warning letter invalid and that it will not be referred to or considered to his detriment in the future.
4. 1. The worker is employed as a flaker operator in the flaking plant. Part of his duties include insuring that the maize is not left exposed to the birds and elements and that all such grain is either stored properly or swept in to the hopper intake. At the time of the incident in question, the worker had been employed in the flaking plant for 15-16 years and was well aware of his duties.
2. On the 11th of July, 1995, the operations manager, seeing the maize was left exposed to the rain, instructed the worker to sweep this maize into the intake. At 5.00 p.m., when the worker was leaving for home, he confirmed to the manager that he had carried out this instruction. At 5.30 p.m. it was discovered that the hopper intake area had been left in an unacceptable condition with maize exposed to the driving rain. It was necessary for other workers to finish the job.
3. The worker's contention that he had performed the task as instructed is not accepted by the Company. There are witnesses to the fact that at 5.30 p.m. after he had gone home, the maize was still about the hopper area and the entrance to the flaking plant.
4. On the day in question, the 11th of July, 1995, the worker's immediate supervisor was absent. It is clear that the worker believed that in the absence of his immediate supervisor he did not have to perform his total range of duties and that his failure to carry out a direct instruction would not be discovered.
5. The worker failed to carry out a reasonable instruction and subsequently mislead the operations manager. Under these circumstances the written warning was justified.
6. At conciliation, the Union not alone sought the withdrawal of the letter and also financial compensation. Such a claim is unprecedented and is rejected by the Company.
8. The warning remained on the worker's file for a period of 12 months and it has now expired. Notwithstanding, the Company cannot accede to the Unions claim that this letter is withdrawn.
The Court notes that in accordance with the Company/Union agreement, the warning which gave rise to the dispute has since been erased from the employees record.
In the circumstances of this case, and in the interests of harmonising relations, the Company should agree that the warning will not be relied on for any purpose in the future.
The Court wishes to state that it finds it disturbing that the parties were unable to resolve the matter without the necessity of a full Court investigation.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
17th June, 1998______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Fran Brennan, Court Secretary.