INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1); INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT; 1990
NORTHERN AREA HEALTH BOARD
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Mr Duffy
Employer Member: Mr McHenry
Worker Member: Ms Ni Mhurchu
1. Claim for re-imbursement of motor travel expenses between St. Brendan's Hospital and Cherry Orchard Hospital, Ballyfermot.
2. The dispute concerns a nurse who is employed by the Board as a Deputy Nursing Officer. She is based at St. Brendan's Hospital, Dublin 7. The worker was re-located to Cherry Orchard Hospital, for a period of 30 months between 1998 and 2000. Care staff are subject to frequent transfers between facilities within a designated geographical area. The worker used her car to commute to Cherry Orchard but when she submitted her claim for travel expenses it was rejected by Management. In 1986 patients were transferred from St. Brendan's to a ground floor unit in Cherry Orchard. This was a temporary arrangement to allow for alterations to be carried out at St. Brendan's. Staff were transferred from St. Brendan's to Cherry Orchard to care for patients. No allowance was made by the Health Board for travelling time or expenses for staff affected by the move. Approximately 20 Nursing Staff are assigned to this unit from the St. Brendan's complement. Since that time, and currently in operation, an arrangement is in place regarding travel between St. Brendan's and Cherry Orchard which was agreed between Management and the Unions. The agreement provides that , where necessary, a taxi is provided to collect staff from St. Brendan's and transport them to Cherry Orchard for the beginning of their day shift with the return journey provided in the evening. The Board contends that the worker should have used this facility. The Union claims that it was not a suitable option. The dispute was referred to the Labour Relations Commission. Conciliation conferences were held in September, 1999 and November, 2000 but agreement was not reached. The dispute was referred to the Labour Court by the Labour Relations Commission on the 12th January, 2001. A Court hearing was held on the 29th March, 2001.
3. 1. Department of Health circular 10/71 outlines the conditions under which both travel expenses and subsistence rates are paid to officers of Health Boards. The journeys made by the claimant were "necessarily made on official business" and should be covered for the payment of travel expenses.
2. The Board has effectively attempted to circumvent the terms of circular 10/71, as it applies to staff in St. Brendan's, by transferring staff to other centres and insisting that the new centre is now their headquarters.
3. The "1986 Agreement" was clearly a temporary arrangement to cover a specific time frame under particular conditions. To attempt to preclude a legitimate claim for travel expenses fifteen years after the expiry of this agreement is unsustainable.
4. The Board's insistence on the use of taxis from St., Brendan's to Cherry Orchard would have effectively changed the claimant's hours of work from 8.00 a.m.- 8.40 p.m. to 7.40 a.m.- 9.00 p.m. or an extra ten hours per month. No overtime payment was ever offered to the worker in respect of these increased hours.
5. Prior to 1986 the Board paid expenses in the form of travel time to staff transferred from St. Brendan's Hospital. The Board continues to make payments in the form of bus fares to nurses in similar situations, but outside St. Brendan's, who receive expenses in the form of bus fares whether or not public transport is used by them during their period of transfer. At discussions the Union proposed that, as a method of resolving this dispute, such an approach might be considered. This was rejected by the Board.
6. The Board's contention that the worker's claim is in breach of Revenue Commissioners' guidelines is difficult to sustain since it is not suggesting that the terms of Circular 10/71 in some way breaches such guidelines or that the payments outlined above to other nurses, and which the claimant has indicated a willingness to consider, breaches the guidelines.
7. It is difficult to accept the Board's argument that this claim is potentially a very significant cost increase since, if there are mechanisms to deal with such occurrences they should be applied fairly to all staff in St. Brendan's as they appear to be applied elsewhere. The Board's position in relation to the "1986 Agreement" presumably means it has made a huge saving in treating staff in St. Brendan's less favourably than staff in other centres.
4. 1. Circular 10/71 Section 15(b) states "No travelling expenses shall be paid in respect of journey's between an officer's home and his official headquarters i.e. the premises at which he normally performs his duties or such other premises as the Chief Executive Officer may direct in cases of doubt." Travel expenses are a tax-free payment and accordingly are part of a scheme approved by the Revenue Commissioners. Their leaflet on motoring expenses states that:-
"The law provides that employees expenses qualify for deduction by them only where they are incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily in performing the duties of the employment. Expenses incurred by employees in travelling to and from the place of employment are not allowable."
This leaflet also clarifies "Normal place of work" as the place where the employee normally performs the duties of the office or employment.
2. The only case in which travel expenses are payable is where the individual travels from his or her normal place of work to another location. In this case the claimant's normal place of work from March, 1998 to July, 2000 was Cherry Orchard Hospital.
3. No staff assigned to the unit in Cherry Orchard for any time period have ever received travel expenses (mileage) nor have any of the unions sought the payment of same. Management has taken reasonable steps to assist staff by the provision of taxis to those wishing to avail of them.
4. The claimant worked in St. Brendan's for a number of years prior to assignment to Cherry Orchard Hospital. It is only reasonable and logical to assume that she would have been aware of this arrangement and would also have been aware of the fact that none of her colleagues were receiving, or had received travelling expenses in respect of travel between St. Brendan's and Cherry Orchard Hospital no matter how short the duration of their assignment.
5. Concession of the claim would have serious financial consequences for the Board and nationally across a whole range of services, as staff are regularly assigned from time to time to different locations in response to service needs. The payment of travel expenses is governed by a National Scheme. The Board cannot pay travel expenses outside the terms of this scheme.
Having considered the submissions made by the parties the Court accepts that by established custom and practice the agreement on transfers to Cherry Orchard, concluded in June, 1986, was extended beyond its original duration and has become an open-ended agreement. All parties have accepted the position in that regard since 1986 and the Court can see no valid reason as to why the claimant should be treated differently to that of all other staff who transferred over that period.
The Court does not, therefore, recommend concession of the claim.
The Court notes that the Board is willing to review the 1986 Agreement. Such a review would now be desirable if all parties to the agreement wish to participate in the review.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
12th April, 2001______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Tom O'Dea, Court Secretary.