INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 2001
SECTION 20(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1969
ASSOCIATION OF SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS (ASTI)
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Mr Flood
Employer Member: Mr Doherty
Worker Member: Mr. Somers
1. 1. Management's failure to comply with the basis of the Protocol. 2. Management's manner of communicating with staff. 3. Non payment of expenses.
2. The Union submitted a claim to the Court as outlined above on behalf of its members employed by ASTI. It claims that management has failed to comply with the terms of the Protocol as agreed under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission in August, 2000. The Union also wants management to discontinue their ongoing policy of issuing communications which are damaging and injurious to staff and a source of grave concern and stress to them. Finally, the Union wants its members reimbursed for costs incurred while on official business. The Union states that some staff members are owed a substantial amount of back pay.
The Union referred the dispute to the Labour Court under Section 20 (1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969 and agreed to be bound by the Court's Recommendation. The Court investigated the dispute on the 23rd October, 2003.
Management did not attend the Court hearing.
3. 1. Since 2000 the staff of ASTI have found it necessary to strongly object to and utilise the Grievance Procedure to deal with unacceptable behaviour of some members of ASTI who hold elected positions and continuously demonstrate a lack of respect for the rights of its employees.
2.The impact of this workplace culture on the health and well being of staff is very serious. The staff feel under siege and are suffering high levels of stress.
3. The protocol which was agreed and accepted by ASTI in August 2000 was an attempt to underpin a strategy for the development of good working relationships and establish the centrality of co-operation and mutual respect.
4. Management has ignored both the spirit and the content of the protocol agreement. The agreement states that where a dispute does occur, that the matter be referred to the Labour Relations Commission. In this case the employer refused to attend.
5. Employees are owed significant amounts of outstanding expenses.
The Court was requested by solicitors representing the employer to adjourn the hearing to a later date as a result of an interim injunction obtained in the High Court in relation to a dispute between the Association and its General Secretary.
The employer argued that in dealing with the subject identified by SIPTU they could very well breach the Order of the High Court and in these circumstances their client could not participate at least until the interlocutoryapplication had been determined.
Subsequently the Union representing the employees wrote to the Court indicating that it objected to any postponement of the hearing, as its understanding was that the case being dealt with in the High Court related to the General Secretary and not any of the people represented by SIPTU who are the subject of this case. The Union emphasised that this case was taken under Section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969 as the employer had refused to attend the Labour Relations Commission.
Subsequent to this the employer’s solicitor wrote to the Court, pointing out that the Union was not privy to the matters involved in the complex litigation currently before the High Court. He concluded by indicating that if the Labour Court decided to go ahead with the hearing, his client would “take whatever steps it may be advised to, and as was necessary to seek relief before the High Court and that this correspondence would be relied upon for costs”.
The Court subsequently wrote to the employer’s representative proposing that the Court should sit to hear submissions in relation to the application for an adjournment. The Court indicated that it was its intention to allow the employer an opportunity to elaborate on or explain the basis of the application, and to allow the Union an opportunity to respond. It was the Court’s intention to then make a preliminary finding as to whether or not the case should proceed.
However, the employer’s legal representative indicated to the Court that they were not prepared to attend the preliminary hearing as proposed. The Court therefore indicated that it saw no basis on which the Court could decline to investigate the dispute in accordance with the statutory provisions under which it is referred, Section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969.
The employer was informed that the hearing would be going ahead but reiterated, for the reasons already outlined, its client was not in a position to engage in the procedure. The employer did not attend the hearing.
The Union outlined a list of complainants in relation to the performance of management in running the organisation. These included issues and grievances not being investigated, despite commitments in their grievance procedures, that this would be done within a 4 week time period.
It was claimed that staff individually and collectively were systematically being subjected to unfair and unacceptable criticism and innuendoes at meetings, schools, branch and national level, in the media and elsewhere.
The Union alleged that the culture of bullying had now reached a new pitch as a result of a circular sent out to 180 members of the CEC.
The Union stated that at no stage has the employer taken any steps to protect the professional reputation of the staff at head office or to initiate disciplinary action required under the staff agreement.
The Union claimed that the staff were now totally disillusioned and had lost confidence in the willingness of the employer, to duly process or investigate complaints by staff members.
A major issue revolves around the changing of the procedures and deadlines for submissions for staff claims and the reimbursement of costs. This matter has dragged on for months, resulting in staff having significant money out of pocket for expenses incurred.
The Union also alleged that the Treasurer, refused to implement agreements approved with the employer’s representatives, and it was claimed that she dismissed as irrelevant any previous discussions that had taken place with the General Secretary and President.
In the past 12 months this culture had become increasingly oppressive and is now a matter of deep concern to all the staff. The impact of this culture on the health and well being of the staff is extremely serious. The staff feel they are under continuously high levels of stress.
It was claimed that the Honorary Treasurer has on numerous occasions made statements and widely circulated documents undermining the integrity of the staff.
It is the understanding of the Union that both the officers and the standing committee had during the year instructed the Treasurer to pay out the outstanding money but she had refused to do so.
This situation has made it almost impossible for the Union to carry out any normal negotiations or discussions on behalf of their members. Who exactly is the employer and who has the authority to speak for the employer is less than clear.
The Union asked the Court to recommend adequate steps to be taken to address all of the matters raised so that a satisfactory outcome can be achieved for all involved.
While the Court has listed some of the issues raised by the Union the picture painted both orally and in the written submission presented to the Court was one of an organisation deeply divided over issues of policy and internal procedures.
It is clear to the Court that proper attention to the welfare of the employees has not been in operation for some time.
The Court finds it totally unacceptable that any employee in any organisation should be out of pocket to the levels quoted by the Union to the Court. Some are owed the sum of thousands of euro. If the employees were to refuse to carry out their duties and to stop spending their own money the Court has no doubt the employer would take disciplinary action against them. Therefore the Court recommends that this matter be addressed immediately as it would appear that it is not a question of individuals being entitled to these expenses but rather an argument over the forms and procedures in which the claims are dealt with. The Court recommends that this issue be addressed within the next few weeks and that all expenses due to be paid immediately. If there is a dispute on monies outstanding or due to individuals this can be referred to the Court for a decision or recommendation.
In relation to the wider issue the Court while accepting that ASTI is a large organisation with quite a complex structure and levels of responsibility, and has gone through a dramatic period over the last few years, it nevertheless must remind it of its responsibilities to its employees. The employees are entitled to:
1. Proper industrial relations, to have mechanisms and procedures in place, and to have these honoured.
2. They are entitled to clear and unambiguous levels of responsibility, clarification as to who is their manager, who they should report to, and who makes the decisions on behalf of the organisation.
3. They are entitled to expect that if they negotiate with management personnel that they are at that time dealing with personnel who have the authority to negotiate.
4. They are entitled to protection by the employer against false accusation or attack from the members if they are not justified. Obviously if there are complaints with regards staff these should be dealt in the normal way and in the privacy of the organisation and not through the media.
5. The employees are entitled to operate in a workplace where they can get on with their job without the constant fear or threat from elected individuals who would appear have no direct line responsibility.
The Court given the litany of issues raised by the Union and the obvious atmosphere that prevails within the organisation, commends the staff on the approach taken during what must have been an extremely difficult period.
The Court equally makes the point to management that it must get its house in order and must do so immediately and not over a period of months.
The Court is conscious that at senior management level in organisations tensions and interpersonal problems will exist. However the Court would normally expect that the fallout would be confined to the upper echelons of the organisation. It is unusual for the effect to filter down to employees at all levels.
The Court believes that whatever the difficulties, they should be confined to the upper circles of the organisation and that employees should be allowed to continue with their work in an atmosphere that is at least conducive to good performance. It is in the interest of the members, that staff be allowed to carry out their duties in a suitable atmosphere.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
17th November, 2003______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Larry Wisely, Court Secretary.