INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 2001
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
(REPRESENTED BY IRISH BUSINESS AND EMPLOYERS' CONFEDERATION)
- AND -
Chairman: Mr Duffy
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Ms Ni Mhurchu
1. Canteen service.
2. This dispute concerns a claim by Mandate on behalf of 4,500 members employed in the 19 Superquinn stores nation-wide, for the restoration of the full value of their subsidised canteen service, which has been significantly eroded over 18 months. In 2000, Management made a decision to contract the running of the service to an independent catering firm and an agreement was reached.
The Union was anxious to ensure that the new canteen service would maintain continuity with regard to prices, quality and availability for the general membership and a specific section to this effect was inserted in the final agreement. Shortly after the start of the phased implementation of the agreement there were significant price increases and the union lodged an objection.
Discussions took place locally but no agreement could be reached. The matter was the subject of a conciliation conference under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission but no agreement could be reached.
The matter was referred to the Labour Court on the 25th, March, 2002 under Section
26 (1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. A Labour Court hearing took place on the 25th , June, 2002.
3. 1. The provision of a subsidised canteen service is a well-established condition of employment for all Mandate members employed by the Company.
2. The agreement is unambiguous where it states,"Canteens will remain subsidised on the basis as it is today. Superquinn pays all expenses and wages, and food must break-even as it is today".
3. Management's letter of 9th,October, 2001 clearly links the increase in prices with the"higher costsof operation". This burden should not, by agreement, be passed on to staff and is totally the responsibility of Superquinn Management.
4. The level of increases which have occurred in the various canteens since the final implementation of the 2000/01 canteen agreement are not sustainable, are unjustifiable and are totally contrary and a clear breach of the agreement's relevant terms.
5. When consideration is taken of the fact that all produce is being purchased at retail price in the various Superquinn stores, there is no justification whatsoever for some items costing up to 100% more by the time they are sold in the canteen.
6. If a worker decides to purchase an item directly from the shop and avails of their 10% staff discount the gap in relation to the price being charged in the canteen widens even further.
4. 1. Historically, there has been no consistency in the provision of service in the canteens. Prices of food items have varied considerably from canteen to canteen; there were no standardised menus.
2. The Company has continually subsidised the canteen service. The Company does not make any profit from the canteen.
3. There is no Company/Union agreement, which guarantees that prices will be maintained or reviewed at certain times or by certain percentages.
4. The Company has a well-established Quality Assurance department, which ensures a very high standard of food safety in all stores and in all canteens.
5. The Company has never prevented any of its employees from purchasing food in the store and then using the canteen facilities to consume it.
The Court has given careful consideration to the submissions of the parties, and has examined the additional information provided by them since the hearing.
It is impossible for the Court to formulate any definitive opinion as to what transpired at the meetings leading to the conclusion of the agreement at issue. Whilst the meaning of the written term in the agreement relied upon by the Union is not clear, the Court fully accepts that the Union negotiators believed that the Company side shared their understanding of what was intended. There is no reason to doubt their bona-fides and on balance the Court is of the view that a reasonable basis existed for the Union's belief.
The Court has, however, some difficulty with the ongoing practicality of the proposition that items of prepared food in the canteen should cost no more than the retail price of the ingredients used. Even if such an arrangement was intended it could not be immutable for all time.
In all the circumstances of this case the Court recommends that the parties should have further discussions with a view to establishing a clear understanding as to the level of subsidy to be provided to the canteen. In particular, the parties should clarify what cost items are to be regarded as "expenses" for the purpose of the agreement in question.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
22nd August, 2002______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Helena McDermott, Court Secretary.