INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
BROWN THOMAS, CORK
- AND -
Chairman: Mr Flood
Employer Member: Mr Pierce
Worker Member: Mr Rorke
1. Disturbance compensation.
2. In 1996, the Company embarked on a major refurbishment of its Cork store. The upgrading which involved an investment of £10 million, consisted of building on an additional 20,000 square feet and the refurbishment of the existing 50,000 square feet.
The dispute concerns the Union's claim for disturbance compensation on behalf of 120 staff employed at the store. It argues that during the refurbishment which lasted for approximately 22 months, staff suffered considerable inconvenience as a result of bad weather conditions, levels of dust and the removal of asbestos. The Company is refusing to pay compensation on the basis that all possible precautions were taken to minimise the disruption and that the refurbishment work was essential to maintain competitiveness.
Local level discussions failed to resolve the issue and the matter was referred to the Labour Relations Commission. Conciliation conferences took place on the 30th of September, 1998 and the 25th of November, 1998. As agreement could not be reached the dispute was referred to the Labour Court on the 1st of December, 1998 under Section 26 (1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. A Labour Court hearing took place in Cork on the 3rd of March, 1999.
3. 1. During the refurbishment programme there was no air conditioning in the store. The summer of 1996 was very hot and the staff in the Hi-Fi and Furniture Departments had to endure long spells of fumes filtering into the shop area. Staff employed on the cosmetic counter found it impossible to perform their duties standing in the heat. The humidity caused great stress to all staff.
2. During the winter months the store was very cold. The number of staff suffering from flu was above average and staff wore coats and gloves to keep warm. The double doors at the front of the store were removed and replaced by a single door system and items were blown off the counter close to the main doors by the wind.
3. The continuous use of drills, kango hammers etc. made it very difficult for staff dealing with customers.
4. Many staff members suffered from eye infections and staff attended doctors with throat and chest infections. Asbestos dust was found all over the top floor in walls and ceilings. The Health and Safety Inspector confirmed that readings were quite high. Construction people wore protective clothing but staff were constantly exposed.
5. Obstructions and falling debris was the norm every day. One staff member from the cosmetic counter received a blow from a car crossing the road from the canteen to the shop. On the opening day of the new fragrance hall, a security man had to remain on duty all day as customers kept tripping over a step.
6. The Union accepts that the store has been improved. However, it believes that the hardship placed on all staff members during the twenty months of renovations far exceeded an acceptable level. In the circumstances the Union's claim for compensation of £1,000 per worker is justified for the co-operation given during this period.
4. 1. The development and refurbishment work was essential to maintain competitiveness and to secure the future of the business and the employees.
2. The decision to make this investment reflected the confidence the Company had in the people employed to grow the business.
3. All possible precautions were taken to minimise the disruption and any problems raised were promptly dealt with. Particular attention was paid in respect of Health and Safety matters. Removal of asbestos was carried out in a safe and professional manner with full consultation involving the Health and Safety Authority, the Store Safety Committee, staff and the Union.
4. It was emphasised to Builders and Shopfitters (who were involved in weekly site meetings) that they must ensure adherence to strict standards to minimise dust and noise and to ensure partitions (behind which work was being carried out) were fully sealed at all times.
5. Dust or noise was not created solely by work in the store. Firstly, the paving of Maylor Street at the rear of the store generated noise, dirt and dust. Secondly, Roches Stores was completing major development work and was working on the exterior of its building at the same time. Thirdly, the level of dust and noise generated by major refurbishment work being carried out on a public house in the immediate area necessitated intervention from the Company's builders.
6. The Company retained all staff in employment during the period. In November, 1997 the second floor was closed down to ensure the safe removal of the asbestos. Staff were given the option of taking leave or being redeployed in other departments during the period and average commission was paid to protect their earnings.
7. The staff now enjoy an excellent working environment and personal facilities.
8. The Union has stated that absenteeism increased during the period of the work. On checking the records of the staff members mentioned there was no material change in their attendance and the Company is not aware that the nature of the absences during the period of work were related to the development and refurbishment programme.
9. The Company is fully appreciative of the co-operation of staff during the period of the development and refurbishment programme.
The Court considered the written and oral submissions made by the parties.
The Court accepts that the Company made every effort to minimise the problems for staff but also acknowledges the co-operation given in extremely difficult working conditions by the staff.
The Court recommends the payment of a lump sum of £2,000 into a fund to be used as the staff consider appropriate.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
23rd March, 1999______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Fran Brennan, Court Secretary.