INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
(REPRESENTED BY THE IRISH BUSINESS AND EMPLOYERS' CONFEDERATION)
- AND -
CORK OPERATIVE BUTCHERS SOCIETY & GENERAL WORKERS UNION
Chairman: Mr Duffy
Employer Member: Mr McHenry
Worker Member: Ms Ni Mhurchu
1. Improvements in terms and conditions.
2. The dispute concerns one worker, a butcher in the Company's Cork store, on whose behalf the Union is seeking an improvement in his terms and conditions of employment. The worker is question commenced his apprenticeship on the 8th of April, 1991, and, after four years' apprenticeship, on the 10th of April, 1995, he was offered a permanent job in the store. The Union and the Company, on the 20th of April, 1995, signed an agreement on new terms and conditions for butchers appointed on or after the 10th of April, 1995, whereby they would work a flexible 7.5 hour day, i.e., between 8.00 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. daily and 12.30 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. on late night trading days. The worker was employed under the new conditions while his colleagues continue to work under the old terms, i.e., 8.00 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. daily. The Union claims that the revised terms and conditions were accepted under duress by the worker due to limited job opportunities available at that time. The Union is seeking that he be afforded conditions identical to those of his colleagues. The Company's position is that the agreed revised conditions were a necessary response to modern trading conditions and that the new arrangements are consistent with conditions agreed with other unions throughout the store. The dispute was the subject of a conciliation conference under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, at which agreement was not reached. The dispute was referred to the Labour Court, on the 8th of July, 1999, in accordance with Section 26(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. The Court carried out its investigation, in Cork, on the 25th of November, 1999.
3. 1. The claimant is the only butcher in the Cork area who has a written contract and who is obliged to work a flexible roster from 8.00 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. and 12.30 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. on days of late night trading. It is unreasonable for him to be expected to accept inferior conditions to those of his colleagues.
2. While it is conceded that he accepted the conditions four years ago, he did so in exceptional circumstances, which have since changed. Accordingly, his conditions should be altered to fall in line with established local standards.
3. In general, agreements are for a specific period and are subject to removal or alteration. It is unjust that this worker should be bound by his contract indefinitely. The contract should be amended or rescinded and, in future, should the Company wish to apply new terms to butchers, this should be done through established procedures and not by means of coercion.
4. 1. The terms and conditions that now apply were negotiated and agreed with the Union and the claimant's contract was accepted, based on the terms of the agreement.
2. There was no question of coercion, as alleged by the Union, in respect of new appointees. The principle contained in the agreement regarding the flexible day concept reflects the practice that applied to all other grades within the store and in the retail trade generally. Therefore, the change now being requested by the Union would have widespread cost implications for the Company and the retail trade in general.
3. Currently, over 40% of all staff in the store are on flexible contracts and in time all staff will be on flexible contracts. Any other butcher that will be employed by the Company will have this type of flexible contract. Therefore, no discrimination towards the claimant exists. The same 'cut off' principle in relation to a change of work practice from a certain date also applied to other categories in Roches Stores.
4. Competition is particularly strong in the food business. It is, therefore, necessary to control costs, especially payroll costs. Most of the Company's competitors are operating flexible contracts so that extended trading such as late nights, etc., is based on a flexible day rather than being based on excess hours on an overtime basis.
5. The Company has bought out the option to work overtime in respect of all existing butchers, except one, in order to control costs and in view of this development in the retail trade generally.
It is accepted by both parties that the working conditions now in dispute were expressly provided for in a collective agreement dated the 20th of April, 1995. It is clear that the object of that agreement was to provide the Company with greater flexibility in rostering butchers employed after that date so as to facilitate extended trading hours.
In essence it is the Union's case that it felt constrained to conclude the agreement at that time, due to the circumstances then prevailing with regard to the availability of employment for its members. They say that circumstances have now changed and in consequence the agreement should be terminated.
Industrial relations agreements are frequently concluded by parties who feel under some pressure to do so. This could not invalidate the agreement or allow one party to withdraw from it should the circumstances, giving rise to that pressure, change.
The object of the agreement is to facilitate extended trading, the requirement for which has not ceased or diminished. In these circumstances the Court could not recommend that the Union's claim, as presented, be conceded.
It is noted that the agreement does provide for alteration by agreement. The Court recommends that the parties should review the operation of the agreement and address any difficulties identified in a way which does not undermine its basic objective.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
9th December, 1999______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Michael Keegan, Court Secretary.