INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
AMALGAMATED TRANSPORT & GENERAL WORKERS UNION
Chairman: Mr Duffy
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Mr. Somers
1. Duration of voluntary severance package.
2. The dispute concerns the parties interpretation of the Company/Union voluntary severance package in relation to distribution workers employed by the Company at various depots throughout the country. The Union Side claim that their letter of the 21st of May, 1997 to the Company outlines its clear understanding that the Transport Agreement, which provided for an early retirement option on a replacement by contractor basis, does not operate within a time frame.
The Company's position is that there was no guarantee of voluntary parting terms beyond the year 2000. It states that workers employed in distribution signed up to Plan 2000 in September, 1995 which payed the way for the contracting out of the distribution fleet. A number of agreements were reached and it was always the Company's view that the terms expired on the 31st of December, 2000 for all distribution centres and this was indicated to the Union Side.
The matter was the subject of a conciliation conference held under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission. As agreement could not be reached, the dispute was referred to the Labour Court on the 6th of June, 2000 under Section 26(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. A Labour Court hearing took place on the 2nd of August, 2000.
3. 1. There is no doubt about the importance placed by the Union side to the issue of the time frame for the proposed agreement. The letter to management of the 21st of May, 1997 could not have been more explicit.
2. Management's letter of the 24th of June, 1997 left no room for doubt. It concurred with the Union Side's interpretation set out in their letter of the 21st of May, 1997.
3. The maintenance of the integrity of this agreement is critical to the workers' co-operation to talks on further rationalisation. There can be no new agreement if management fail to honour the existing agreement.
4. 1. Guinness must state at the outset that throughout its long history of change plans and agreements with its employees that it has never acted in bad faith. Management has at no time attempted to be less than honest with its employees and their representatives.
2. The personnel manager referred to by the Union Side in their letter of the 21st of May, 1997 would not have had the authority to extend the lifetime of the terms of the agreement.
3. At a meeting with management concerning Irish Ale Breweries (IAB) Ballyfermot distribution in August, 1996, management stated in direct response to a question that there was no guarantee of voluntary parting terms beyond the year 2000. The letter that is the subject of dispute was written ten months later, when the position regarding the lifetime of terms was clearly known by all involved at management level. This is why the Company is clear as to its interpretation of that correspondence, terms would be offered in to the future but not necessarily the same terms.
4. At present, there are 44 drivers remaining in the IAB provincial distribution depots - of those 22 are aged 50 years and over and could leave with terms before December, 2000. Those individuals can not have an issue with the Company on terms as they are available to them until the end of the year. The age profile of the remaining drivers is such that some of them would not be aged 50 until 2010. There is no possibility that the Company would have agreed in 1997 to have terms in existence for a further 13 years. In all the recent Guinness change programmes, such as Plan 2000 and K2, terms have had a definite time line. IAB provincial distribution would not have been handled any differently.
5. This dispute over severance terms has prevented progress being made on the current distribution plan, which was formally launched, with the Unions in April, 2000. This plan facilitates the progression towards the full contracting out of provincial distribution through a programme of depot rationalisation, non-recruitment of staff and availability of early retirement terms. The plan also sees the integration of stout and ale / lager deliveries on the same lorry thus enabling improved levels of customer service and productivity whilst at the same time minimising the costs associated with contractor support. Remaining in-house drivers will transfer from overtime and standards based pay systems to an annualised hours system and associated work pattern allowance payment, part of which will be pensionable. This is in line with the position of employees elsewhere in the Company.
6. Guinness is at present involved in a number of change programmes and rationalisation plans. All of these plans will mean a reduction in employee numbers. If the Company was to extend the IAB distribution terms beyond December, 2000 the knock-on effects throughout the Company would not be sustainable.
7. The Company does not agree with the Trade Unions' interpretation of the correspondence in question. While it was understood that severance terms would exist it was never guaranteed that IAB distribution terms would continue indefinitely. The Company's present terms as already described will be available for the duration of the distribution plan. The Court is requested to recommend in the Company's favour that life long terms can not exist and were not agreed to and secondly that the terms currently available to the IAB drivers terminate with effect from the 31st of December, 2000.
The Court is satisfied that this case turns on the correct interpretation of the correspondence between the parties in May/June, 1997. The wording of the Union's letter of 21st May, 1997 makes it perfectly clear that as far as they were concerned the voluntary severance/early retirement arrangements proposed would be open ended in duration. The Company, in its reply of 24th June, 1997, did not specifically demur from the Union's understanding in that regard. In these circumstances the Union was entitled to proceed on the basis that its understanding as to the duration of the agreement was correct and to ballot its members accordingly.
The Court recommends that the agreement should terminate on the 31st December, 2000. However, those individuals associated with the Union's claim employed at the date the agreement came into effect (details of whom have been provided to the Court) should be red circled and the agreed terms should continue to be available to them on an open ended basis.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
27th November, 2000______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Fran Brennan, Court Secretary.