INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
TOP TECH LIMITED
(REPRESENTED BY THE IRISH BUSINESS AND EMPLOYERS' CONFEDERATION)
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Mr Flood
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Mr O'Neill
1. Dispute concerning the continuation of a job-sharing agreement.
2. The Company in engaged in the vacuum metalisation of plastic products and employs 54 workers. The dispute concerns two female employees who work in the assembly area. Following discussions between the Union and the Company in mid-1997, the Company agreed to the Union's proposal on job-sharing and the two workers commenced a job-sharing arrangement in September, 1997. The arrangement was agreed to by the Company on the basis of: (1) the trial period would be open ended, (2) each worker was responsible for providing cover for absences by the other and (3) the scheme would cease if it was not working satisfactorily. There was no formal written agreement.
In early 1998, the Company informed the two workers of its intention to terminate the scheme on the grounds that it was not being operated in a satisfactory manner. There were a number of instances where absences were not covered, in particular one incident, where one of the job sharers missed six days (through sick leave) and these were not covered by the other job sharer. The Union objected to the Company proposal stating that overall the scheme operated in a most satisfactory manner, the breaches were not significant and the Company suffered no financial loss.
The dispute was referred to the Labour Relations Commission and a conciliation conference was held on the 18th of May, 1998. Agreement was not reached and the dispute was referred to the Labour Court by the Labour Relations Commission on the 12th of July, 1998. A Court hearing was held on the 24th of August, 1998.
3. 1. The six day absence arose when one worker was absent on compassionate leave due to two family bereavements and illness. There was a breakdown in communication between the worker and her colleague which resulted in cover not being provided for some days. However, the Company failed to contact the worker's colleague to request that she provide the necessary cover, even though she lived nearby.
2. The Union does not accept that production was affected as a result of the absence as there is adequate flexibility among the workforce. The Company also implemented a number of lay-offs due to a downturn in business.
3. A return to a 39 hour week would have a disastrous effect on both workers because they had made such fundamental changes in their personal lives. In fact one worker would be forced to leave the employment.
4. The Company's proposal to cancel the job-sharing arrangement, without taking all relevant factors into account, is unfair and unreasonable. Management has not put forward any coherent arguments, economic or otherwise, to sustain their view that the scheme was not working.
5. Job-sharing is common throughout industry and the Union's original request to the Company for such a scheme arose from the difficulties women members had with traditional working arrangements. It is essential that the scheme be maintained in respect of the two workers and that it is also formalised.
4. 1. Following the incident where cover was not provided for six days there were further incidents of lack of cover as follows:-
- week nine - one job sharer left work early one day without arranging cover
- week ten - one job sharer left work early one day without arranging cover
2. The agreement was personal to the two workers and it had been breached by them. It was an integral part of the agreement that the workers would arrange cover for each other. It was clearly understood that this was their responsibility.
3. There was no formal agreement with the Union regarding the operation of a general job share scheme open to all workers in the Company, rather there was a verbal agreement in respect of the two workers only, and this arrangement is not working out. The Company is not in a position to continue with this flexible working arrangement as the two workers have demonstrated that they cannot meet the requirement to provide full cover for each other. The Company, therefore, is within its rights in terminating the agreement which was operated on an open ended trial basis.
4. The Company is currently experiencing severe difficulties in the market place which resulted in lay-offs. The two workers are long serving employees who understand the production process. Their expertise is required by the Company on a full-time basis.
5. Even if the Company was performing well, it cannot reasonably be expected to operate any form of job-sharing flexible working scheme, given the Company's small size. Unlike other larger operations who carry additional staff to cover for casual absence this Company does not, and cannot afford to do so. The experience of the Company in attempting to operate a scheme has led management to conclude that job-sharing is not an operationally viable option.
The Court recommends that the scheme for job-sharing, applicable only to these two employees should continue, on the clear understanding that responsibility to ensure that the post is manned rests with the two individuals.
If there is a breach of this agreement again then it falls and can be discontinued by the Company.
If in future, the economic circumstances of the Company dictates that those arrangements should change, this should then be discussed with the Union.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
1st September, 1998______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Tom O'Dea, Court Secretary.