INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
(REPRESENTED BY IRISH BUSINESS AND EMPLOYERS' CONFEDERATION)
- AND -
AMALGAMATED TRANSPORT AND GENERAL WORKERS' UNION
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Ms Jenkinson
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Ms Ni Mhurchu
1. Control room and related issues.
2. The Company is based in Drogheda and is involved in the production of high quality sinter magnesia which is a raw material for refractories used in the steel industry.
In 1997 the Company commenced a major rationalisation programme and an agreement has been reached with the general operative and craft grades which comprise the majority of staff. The dispute concerns the issue of working arrangements in the Company's control room operation. The Company proposed to eliminate shift working for laboratory technicians and to change the job of Central Control Room Operator (CCRO) to include the shift laboratory work, etc. General operatives have an agreement that vacancies arising in existing control room positions are filled from their ranks. The Company's position is that, as the posts in question are totally new, the agreement does not apply. Additionally, a difficulty arose in respect of the changing from a 4-shift system to a 5-shift system, which is seen as the only viable alternative to the implementation of a number of redundancies from within the CCRO laboratory technician grades. The Union sought concessions which the Company claims would increase costs which, consequently, were unacceptable.
The dispute was the subject of three conciliation conferences under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, at which agreement was not reached.
The dispute was referred to the Labour Court, on the 5th of January, 1999, in accordance with Section 26 (I) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. The Court carried out is investigation on the 26th of April, the earliest date convenient to all parties concerned.
1. It is the Company's preferred option that, as per the "Reshaping For the Future Plan", redundancies will be implemented from within the existing CCRO and Laboratory Technician grades. This position has been strengthened by the recent and dramatic decline in the Company's market, a trend that is set to continue throughout 1999. The Company has not, however, reneged on its agreement to introduce a 5-shift system, as an alternative to implementing redundancies, provided this is done at no additional cost to the Company, as agreed.
2. The Company recognise that there is value in the implementation of a 5-shift system, as suggested at conciliation. With the new rate, the Central Controller's earnings will be preserved whilst and their time off will increase. Two shift Laboratory Technicians will avoid redundancies and will be able to apply their existing skills in the new position of Central Controller. In addition, the 5-shift system will allow for one existing relief (general operative) to be appointed, as a full time Central Controller. The appointment of one of the reliefs to a full time Central Controller's position will, in turn, present a promotional vacancy on the relief list for another general operative.
3. The CCROs' claim for compensation represents considerable additional cost at a time when their earnings are already protected. Current market conditions make such a claim unacceptable. The relief general operatives' claim on all positions arising, on an automatic basis, is nonsensical, in that it confirms rather than avoids the need for redundancies from amongst the CCRO and the Laboratory Technician positions.
4. The Company accepts that the implementation of the 5-shift system and the required appointment of 2 Laboratory Technicians as Central Controllers will, temporarily, displace the general operatives who currently act as reliefs, from full time appointment. The Company believes, however, that there is no way to avoid this and to fulfil the agreed purpose of the proposal, i.e., to avoid redundancies. The displacement is justified on the grounds that it trades off a number of certain and absolute redundancies against a single and temporary displacement from promotion. The appointment of 2 Laboratory Technicians to these positions, instead of 2 relief CCROs is merited by both a comparison of skills and service between the individuals.
5. Given the current and future market conditions, the Company cannot accept any additional expense involved in the introduction of 5-shift working.
1. In February, 1998, the Company and the Unions reached an agreement covering conditions and work practices, in an effort to reduce costs. Considerable concessions were made by the general operative group (details supplied to the Court). Part of the agreement covered the question of promotions/vacancies and gave the Company the right to appoint the most suitable candidates, with the exception of positions covered by permanent reliefs. The Company is now seeking that the Union suspend a section the agreement to resolve the problems in other sections of the workforce.
2. The Union rejects the Company's view that, because some the laboratory technician duties are being amalgamated with those of CCROs, the agreement should not apply. If the agreement is to be changed, a complete new agreement must be reached.
The Court has considered all the arguments put forward in this dispute and notes the difficulties encountered in trying to resolve the situation. The Court recommends that, in the interest of sustaining employment in the current difficult trading conditions, the parties should agree to accept the following:
- the CCRO and the Laboratory Staff should amalgamate together with immediate effect;
- a five-shift system should be introduced in the new amalgamated working environment, with immediate effect. In order to avoid redundancies, the Court recommends that the general operatives accept, as a once-off exception to the agreement, the transfer of the remaining laboratory worker to the Central Control Room.
- in view of the disagreement between the parties regarding the possible loss of earnings, the parties should agree to the setting up of a monitoring committee under the auspices of the Labour Relations Advisory Service to assess the earnings over an agreed period of six months.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
17th May, 1999.______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Michael Keegan, Court Secretary.