INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 2004
SECTION 13(9), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1969
LIMERICK COUNTY COUNCIL
(REPRESENTED BY LOCAL GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT SERVICES BOARD)
- AND -
(REPRESENTED BY IRISH MUNICIPAL, PUBLIC AND CIVIL TRADE UNION)
Chairman: Ms Jenkinson
Employer Member: Mr Doherty
Worker Member: Mr O'Neill
1. Appeal against Rights Commissioner's Recommendation IR-036980/05/MR.
2. The issue involves a claim by the worker, who applied for funding from Limerick County Council's Personal Development Fund to undertake a four year degree course in History, Politics and Sociology on 12th September, 2002 and was refused. The purpose of the fund is to assist staff members who wish to undertake a course of study outside normal working hours. The funding available to the Council for the academic year 2002-2003 was reduced by 50% and the Council claim that they had no option but to apply the criteria in the assessment of all applications in a stringent manner. The maximum financial assistance by the Council if granted is €1,000 per annum. In 2004 the worker did receive assistance of €1,000. The worker discovered that other staff were granted the financial assistance in similar circumstances in 2002/2003 and made a formal complaint through the grievance procedures.
As the issue was not resolved the matter was referred to a Rights Commissioner for investigation and recommendation. On the 12th April, 2006, the Rights Commissioner issued his recommendation as follows:
- “Accordingly I now recommend that Limerick County Council should, on a once-off and without precedent basis, agree to pay the claimant an additional sum of €2,500, and that the claimant and IMPACT should accept this payment in full and final settlement of this claim”
- On the 16th May, 2006 the Claimant appealed the Rights Commissioner's Recommendation to the Labour Court in accordance with Section 13(9) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969. A Labour Court hearing took place on the 20th June, 2006.
3.1 The contribution towards the workers course fees of €3,500 (which includes the Rights Commissioner's award) is a minimal amount considering the course fees for the four years are in excess of €12,000. Compared to other local authorities the contribution is well below average.
2. The Rights Commissioner took into account the fact that management had not adhered to the grievance procedure, some of the Rights Commissioner award was to reflect this.
3. Following the Rights Commissioner's Recommendation, the Union claims that the Council issued a written polity in relation to the funding of courses without any consultation with the Training Committee. This policy has conditions and qualifications that don't exist in other local authorities in relation to contributions/grants towards courses.
4. The Union is also requesting that a review of recently introduced policy by the Training Committee with a view to implementing a fairer transparent policy that is in line with what was agreed under Sustaining Progress.
4.1 The Council accepts that its decision to refuse assistance in 2002 was unfortunate, but is satisfied that it had no other option. It is prepared to accept the Rights Commissioners recommendation.
2. The Council noted the Rights Commissioner's reference in relation to its training policies and has developed and issued a policy to all staff.
3. When the application had been received in 2002, the Council in the face of a reduced budget had to limit the number of applications approved. Only 60% of applications were approved in 2003 compared with 87% in 2002. There were 12 other applications in 2002 that also had their applications refused and each will no doubt objectively feel that their course was relevant and that it should have been funded.
4. All applications were assessed on the principal of relevance of the course for the organisation and the individual. Individuals on existing courses who had received funding for previous academic years were given priority. The levels of funding for all new applications were limited to a maximum of €1,000 per annum.
5, The ability of any employer to fund external study programmes will always be predicated by the level of funding available. However, even if unlimited funds were available the funding of such courses would have to be assessed on their relevance both to the individual and specifically to their area of employment.
The case before the Court is an appeal by the worker against a Rights Commissioner’s Recommendation, which dealt with his claim for a refund of course fees. The Rights Commissioner recommended that he should be paid the sum of €2,500 in addition to the €1,000 already paid, on a once off and without precedent basis.
The Union, on behalf of the worker’s appeal, expressed concern with the County Council’s new Training Policy. This is not an issue, which is the subject of this claim before the Court.
Having considered the views of the parties expressed in their oral and written submissions, the Court recommends that the Rights Commissioner’s Recommendation of €2,500 should be increased to €3,000, thereby giving him a total reimbursement of €4,000 for the four year course.
The Rights Commissioner’s Recommendation should be varied accordingly.
The Court so decides.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
Enquiries concerning this Decision should be addressed to Jackie Byrne, Court Secretary.