INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 2001
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
- AND -
IRISH MUNICIPAL, PUBLIC AND CIVIL TRADE UNION
Chairman: Ms Jenkinson
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Mr O'Neill
1. Refund of professional fees.
2. The Company employs a large number of professionally qualified staff, mainly accountants, engineers and solicitors. Up to the year 2001, the Company reimbursed staff for fees paid in respect of their membership of professional bodies. On the 27th of November, 2001, the Company announced that, with effect from the 1st of January, 2002, it would no longer reimburse staff for payment of membership fees.
The Union referred the issue to the Labour Relations Commission and two conciliation conferences were held in January and April, 2002. Following conciliation, the Company put forward a proposal to refund 50% of the cost of fees in certain circumstances and 100% in limited cases. This proposal was not acceptable to the Union and the dispute was referred to the Labour Court on the 18th of June, 2002, in accordance with Section 26(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. The Court investigated the dispute on the 13th of August, 2002.
3. 1.A 1985 company circular confirmed the agreement for 100% refunds of professional fees. It has been the custom and practice since then and any attempt to discontinue or reduce the refund is, in effect, a salary reduction.
2. In September, 2001, the Company confirmed that there was no intention to make changes to the scheme and that they would consult further with the Union if any change was proposed. On the 27th of November, a unilateral decision to abolish the refund of membership fees was announced.
3. The Company operates a recruitment / promotion policy which specifies that membership of a professional body is an essential requirement to compete for a job, but once appointed they will only refund the full associated cost in very exceptional circumstances.
4. 1.The Union’s claim is, in essence, about the operation of management discretion in circumstances where the issue in question is neither a term and condition of employment, or part of a collective agreement.
2. The facility to recoup the expense of professional fees was never a formal agreement, either through the Scheme of Conciliation and Arbitration, or directly with any Union. The Company’s proposal to reimburse staff either 50% or 100% of their fees is a reasonable one.
3. Membership of a professional body is not an Eircom business requirement. The Company has minimal requirements for business transactions where the signatory is obliged to be in current membership of a professional body. However, in such cases the Company will refund 100% of the cost of membership.
Having considered the submissions of both parties, the Court recommends that the Company should honour the commitment made in 1985 when approval was given for the reimbursement of membership fees. The Court accepts that the Company has the right to vary its conditions and set down the parameters for payment, but it must recognise the established custom and practice and any changes must be concluded by means of negotiations and agreement.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
19th August, 2002______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Dympna Greene, Court Secretary.