INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 20(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1969
IRISH RED CROSS SOCIETY
(REPRESENTED BY THE IRISH BUSINESS AND EMPLOYERS' CONFEDERATION)
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Ms Jenkinson
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Mr O'Neill
1. Written warning.
2. The dispute concerns a claim by the Union that the Financial Controller and another worker were harassed and bullied by the Acting Secretary General and that the Financial Controller was issued with a final written warning relating to the performance of his duties in a totally unfair and unjust manner. The Union maintains that his position within the organisation is totally undermined as a result of this action. It seeks the removal of the written warning and an apology. The Society rejected the claims and stated that the Financial Controller was treated in a fair, reasonable manner and that the warning was totally justified in view of the workers unauthorised actions. The Union sought to refer the issue to a Rights Commissioner but the Society objected to such a referral. On the 7th of December, 1998 the Union referred the dispute to the Labour Court under Section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969. A Court hearing was held on the 1st of March, 1999. The hearing was adjourned to enable the parties make further submissions to the Court. A resumed hearing was held on the 15th of April, 1999.
3. 1. Following the take-over of the Secretary General's position on an interim basis by the Chairman of the Society, there was a serious deterioration in management/staff relations because of his hostile, aggressive management style. Against this background the extraordinary decision was taken to issue a totally unjustified written warning to the Financial Controller for allegedly "acting without authority and exceeding authority."
2. The Financial Controller was simply carrying out his duties in a proper, competent and correct manner pertaining to the permanent appointment of another worker and her entry to the Society's pension scheme.
3. The 'procedure' adopted by the Society prior to the imposition of the warning on the worker did not include affording him the right to respond to various allegations demonstrating the vindictive nature of the 'disciplining' of the worker.
4. A sustained campaign of bullying and harassment of the Financial Controller and his staff obtained and can be determined by the volume tone and content of memos querying normal practice and procedures in the Accounts Department (details supplied to the Court).
5. All workers employed by the Society are deeply and genuinely committed to the Society, its aims, objectives and purpose. Since this issue was referred, a new Secretary General has been appointed, the Union is committed to being as constructive as possible in dealings with this officer to rebuild trust and mutual respect.
6. The written warning to the Financial Controller was unjustified and has caused him great distress. He is entitled to an apology because his professional integrity was impugned in a hurtful, unjustifiable manner.
4. 1. Following the appointment of a clerical worker as a permanent member of staff in April, 1998, the Financial Controller discussed and entered into arrangements with her and the Company pension scheme in respect of the backdating of the workers pension entitlements. This had not been authorised by either the Acting Secretary General or the Executive Committee. In taking such a decision without authority, the Financial Controller incurred a potential liability, on his own calculations and without authority up to £7,571 in respect of the worker's employer contributions arrears to 1993.
2. In addition, the Financial Controller arranged for the Society to provide the worker with a staff loan of £2,411 to enable her to meet her liability for the retrospective employee contributions to April 1st, 1993. He does not, nor did he at any time, have authority to grant such a staff loan. The Financial Controller had the information necessary to advise the Executive Committee and the worker of the rates applicable to both the Society and her pension contributions. He chose not to give the information to his employers but to give it exclusively to the worker who worked under him in the accounts department. Yet he was aware that the Executive alone could decide from what date her pension entitlements could run and only the Executive could authorise the actual expenditure to meet the employer's liability. On August 18th 1998, the Financial Controller was invited to make representations to the Executive Committee, but chose not to do so. Neither he nor his shop steward raised the matter as a grievance, nor did his Union, despite the existence of a procedural agreement. The Executive Committee of the Society considered the matter and issued him with a written warning dated September 28th, 1998.
3. As a charity and a statutory body in receipt of both charitable and exchequer funding, it is imperative that the Society operate on the basis of the most stringent financial controls. The Executive is aware of the need to ensure that not only are the most stringent financial procedures observed. Insistence by management or the Executive Committee that the most stringent financial controls be observed and the approval of the Executive Committee be sought prior to the incurring of expenditure does not constitute bullying or harassment. Nor can it be said to be bullying or
harassment to require a Financial Controller to furnish to cheque signatories all necessary details when submitting cheques for signature. Prior to the reference of this matter to the Labour Court, neither the worker or his shop steward complained of harassment or bullying. Had such a complaint been made, it would certainly have been investigated.
4. Despite the fact that the expenditure incurred was unauthorised, the Society has not sought the reversal of the worker's unauthorised decision, in view of the difficulties this could cause. The Executive Committee and the Society's management under the new Secretary General will continue its efforts to resolve any industrial relations problems. If these are to be overcome it is essential that all parties refrain from personal abuse and distortion of facts. The Chairman refutes the personal imputations made against him which have no basis whatsoever.
5. The Society contends that its efforts to ensure the Financial Controller observes normal and necessary financial controls does not and cannot constitute harassment and bullying. The issue of a written warning was both reasonable and lenient in the circumstances. The Society requests the Court to uphold its position.
The Court considers the manner in which this disciplinary issue was dealt with was abrupt and unprofessional. There is a need for procedures to be corrected and updated.
Given the circumstances in which the Financial Controller found himself in, the Court is of the view that the warning issued was too severe, the consequences of which could have had further serious repercussions, therefore, in the interest of good industrial relations this warning should be withdrawn with immediate effect. The Court notes that the parties have agreed to put new procedures in place with a view to creating a positive working environment and to establishing mutual respect.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
21st May, 1999______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Tom O'Dea, Court Secretary.