INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 2004
SECTION 20(2), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1969
LIMERICK CITY COUNCIL
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Mr Duffy
Employer Member: Mr Grier
Worker Member: Ms Ni Mhurchu
1. Alleged breach of Sustaining Progress (S.P.) under Clause 19(9).
2. The Council reached agreement with the Union in 1985 for the introduction of a 15/9 hour shift system to replace the existing 24 hour system. This agreement provided that existing staff working the 24 hour shift were not required to transfer to the 15/9 hour shift system. Given the fact that some staff would continue to operate the 24 hour shift system, it was considered necessary for operational reasons to continue a 24 hour officer shift system for station officers and some sub officers.
Staff subsequently appointed after 1985 to the post of Station Officer and / or Sub Station Officer signed terms and conditions of employment which stated that "A person appointed to the post of sub-station officer/station officer may be required to work on an interim basis on the 24 hour watch system. This arrangement is temporary and will cease when the Chief Fire Officer so decides. Thereafter or alternatively, a person appointed may be required to work in accordance with 15/9 hour work roster or any other roster the Chief Fire Officer considers to be most efficient and effective".
In February, 2002, as the vast majority of basic grade firefighters now operated on 15/9 shifts the Chief Fire Officer signalled his intention, at a meeting with the Station Officers and Sub-Officers of the Fire Brigade, to transfer them from the 24 hour system to the 15/9 shift system in accordance with the agreement. This change would affect 2-5 members of the service out of a present workforce of 63.
Following a number of meetings between the parties, a conciliation conference with the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) was held on the 22nd January, 2004. At the conciliation meeting SIPTU formally stated that it required the creation of four additional posts above the grade of Station Officer and also the provision of additional leave/time off for current Station Officers and Sub Station Officers if the proposed change to a 15/9 shift system was to be introduced.
The Council rejected the claim, stating that it was in breach of Clause 19(6) of Sustaining Progress. The Union did not accept this and the case was referred to the Labour Court under Section 20(2) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969, in accordance with Clause 19.9 of Sustaining Progress on the 28th January, 2004. The parties agreed to accept the outcome. A Labour Court hearing took place in Limerick on the 26th of May, 2004, the earliest date suitable to the parties.
3. 1. The Union's claim is cost increasing and is in breach of Clause 16(9) of Sustaining Progress. The claim would require the recruitment of an additional four workers and would cost approximately €280,000. The increase in annual leave would also involve an additional cost.
2. The Council believes that the present system is more than adequate.
3. The employees concerned accepted as a condition of employment the fact that the 24 hour shift was a temporary arrangement and could be altered to the 15/9 hour shift at the discretion of the Chief Fire Officer.
4. 1. The Council confirmed to the LRC that it was satisfied that a"mutually satisfactory resolution to the provision of the 24 hour shift pattern will be achieved in the context of such discussions". However, the Council has rejected any proposals put forward by the Union. The Council's solution is to remove the 24-hour roster entirely.
2. The Union's claim is not a breach of Sustaining Progress. The Union is seeking to negotiate an agreed resolution to a dispute.
3. The Union believes that the proposed change from a 24 hour to a 15/9 hour roster will have a severe detrimental effect on the workers concerned to carry out their duties to the highest standard.
The substantial dispute giving rise to the claim now before the Court arises from a proposal by the City Council to change the shift system for a number of Officers. The Council relies upon an agreement concluded in 1985 as authorising the proposed change.
SIPTU has claimed that in order to implement the changes proposed it is necessary to create additional posts and to increase time off / annual leave so as to remain within existing agreements. The City Council has asked the Court to determine that the Union's claims are precluded by Sustaining Progress. They have, however, expressly asked the Court not to deal with the merits of the Union's claim.
In circumstances where the Union contends that the changes it seeks are necessary to effectively implement changes which the employer seeks, the Court cannot hold that the Union is precluded by Sustaining Progress from raising such issues in negotiations. Whether or not the Union's contention has merit is not before the Court and, accordingly, the Court expresses no view on that point.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court cannot uphold the City Council's complaint in respect of the matters raised in this referral.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Ciaran O'Neill, Court Secretary.