INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 2004
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Mr Duffy
Employer Member: Mr Doherty
Worker Member: Mr Nash
1. Company's Irish Sea Review.
2. The dispute before the Court arises from Company proposals (Irish Sea Review) to outsource labour on its Irish sea vessels. In 2004 an agreement was concluded between the Company and the Union in relation to the pay and terms and conditions of its members who are employed as Officers and Ratings on the ships. This agreement, which would give the Company large savings per annum, is due to expire in 2007. The Company subsequently put forward proposals to staff , which would involve the manning of its vessels with agency-supplied crew. Staff could remain as Company employees on varied (reduced) pay and conditions, which the Union contends is in breach of the agreement. The Company contends that Clause 19 of the agreement allows it to make amendments to the original agreement:"The Company retains the right, subject to economic and competitive threats, to seek to amend the Agreement when appropriate, in accordance with relent provisions of the Collective Agreement". The Union rejects the Company's contention.
- The dispute could not be resolved at local level and was the subject of a Conciliation Conference under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission. As agreement was not reached, the dispute was referred to the Labour Court on the 21st October, 2005, in accordance with Section 26(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. A Labour Court hearing took place on the 7th November, 2005, the earliest date suitable to the parties.
3. 1. The parties are currently less than half way through a three year agreement. This agreement should continue and any variation of that agreement should be the subject of discussions and must be mutually agreed between the parties. The Union has always been willing to engage with the Company for further cost reductions if required.
2. The Union showed its willingness to co-operate by agreeing to the appointment of independent assessors to deal with the issue. Normally it would be expected that the parties would be willing to accept the advice of the assessors and work to resolve the issues. In this case the Company has embarked on its plan to replace Irish seafarers before assessors had issued their final report.
3.The Union is requesting the Court to rule on the interpretation of the final clause of the Registered Employment Agreement and that the Company complies with the terms of the Benchmarking Agreement and use the procedures set out in the Comprehensive agreement to agree further change if required.
4. 1. The economic and competitive case is compelling for the changes the Company requires to make if it is to continue to run vessels successfully on both the Irish Sea and Continental Routes, especially as the Unions cannot provide the necessary cost reductions of €15 Million per annum by means other than those proposed by the Company.
2. The Company must be allowed to compete on a level playing field with its indigenous and other competitor companies, all of which have lesser pay costs, ratios and leave than Irish Ferries have. The Unions threats of Industrial Action actually worsen the situation for both the Company and the Seafarers, its own members.
3. There is nothing illegal in the Company's proposals. The proposals represent the norm in the maritime industry e.g 95% of vessels into and out of Dublin Port are outsourced. The only real choices available are those presented by the Company. A fudge or a half-way house outcome will not work and cannot be acceptable given the fiduciary responsibilities which must be discharged by the Board of the Company
Both parties made detailed and lengthy submissions to the Court in which they provided comprehensive information on all aspects of their respective positions. The Court has fully considered all of the information with which it was provided and has carefully evaluated the submissions made by the parties in formulating this recommendation.
In June, 2004, the parties concluded a collective agreement dealing with the pay and conditions of employment of the categories of employees associated with the present claims. That agreement was for three years duration and is due to expire in June 2007. The net issue for consideration in this referral is whether, having regard to all of the circumstances relied upon by the Company, that Agreement should now be terminated or whether the parties should continue to be bound by its terms for the remaining part of its duration.
Clause 19 of the Agreement did leave open the possibility of a review. This clause provides as follows:
- "The Company retains the right, subject to economic and competitive threats, to seek to amend the Agreement when appropriate, in accordance with relent provisions of the Collective Agreement".
During the currency of any collective agreement circumstances may change which makes its terms more or less attractive, to one or other of the parties, than was originally anticipated. Nevertheless this could not relieve either party from the obligation to honour the agreement for its duration or until it is voluntarily renegotiated. Were it otherwise the conduct of orderly industrial relations would be made significantly more difficult.
Having regard to all the circumstances of this case the Court is not convinced that the Company has made out a sufficiently compelling case to justify a unilateral termination of its agreement with the Union. Nor is the Court satisfied that all possibilities of renegotiating aspects of the Agreement to address the issues of current concern to the Company have been exhausted. Accordingly, the Court recommends that the Company continue to honour the Agreement of 2004 and that the parties resume negotiations on such modifications in its terms as are necessary in order to address the changes in circumstances which have occurred since its conclusion.
Finally, reference was made in the course of the hearing to the Registered Employment Agreement for Ships Officers. The terms of that Agreement are clear and are binding on both sides. The Court would strongly urge both parties to adhere strictly to the terms of that agreement in all their dealings with each other in the future.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
11th November, 2005______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Joanne O'Connor, Court Secretary.