ADJUDICATION OFFICER DECISION
Adjudication Decision Reference: ADJ-00003046
Dispute for Resolution:
Dispute Reference No.
Date of Receipt
Complaint seeking adjudication by the Workplace Relations Commission under section 13 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969
16th May 2016
Date of Adjudication Hearing: 21st September 2016
Workplace Relations Commission Adjudication Officer: Kevin Baneham
On the 16th May 2016, the complainant lodged a complaint pursuant to the Industrial Relations Act regarding his transfer. The complainant is a general operative and the respondent is a local authority.
In accordance with section 13 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969, following the referral of the dispute to me by the Director General, I inquired into the dispute and gave the parties an opportunity to be heard by me and to present to me any evidence relevant to the dispute.
Attendance at the Hearing:
A General Operative
A Local Authority
Complainant’s Submission and Presentation:
The complainant is a general operative who works for the respondent in the Waste Management department. He has worked for the respondent for 7 or 8 years. He had worked on a particular shift and in a named depot up until his transfer on the 29th May 2015. He challenges his redeployment and asks he revert to his old position and to the status quo.
The complainant outlines that the respondent has treated him unfairly in reassigning him to a different location of work and a different shift. As a consequence, he has lost yard status. It was submitted that the department where the complainant works was a difficult one to manage and that this remains an outstanding legacy issue. There exists an agreed procedure to move or transfer staff within the department but the respondent had not been followed the procedure in transferring the complainant.
The complainant was based in a named depot and his yard status depends on the length of service. He had been 5th or 6th before the transfer, but was placed 2nd for the allocation of road sweeping services. He had lost this status because of the transfer. Yard status is important as it determines whether an employee is selected for certain duties, whether they are selected to undertake training courses and also whether they are selected for an involuntary transfer.
The complainant refers to incidents of the 13th April 2015, the 4th May 2015 and the 19th May 2015 and says that he has not been fairly treated by the respondent. He outlined that untrue allegations had been made against him by two colleagues. He was transferred initially to a different depot and then to a different shift. The respondent had cited operational reasons for the transfer, but this was undertaken outside of the agreed procedure. He states that he has suffered loss because of the transfer.
In reply to the respondent, the complainant outlined that he had lost status because of the role and route he was now being assigned. This had been detrimental to his standing amongst his colleagues. The complainant pointed to the delay of one colleague in supporting another colleague’s letter of complaint about the complainant. He also said that he had worked with this first colleague over time without any problem arising. He said that the parties had not been treated equally.
Respondent’s Submission and Presentation:
The respondent denies the claim and denies that the complainant was treated unfairly or unjustly. It refers to issues and incidents between the complainant and one named colleague, where this colleague and his spouse made formal complaints against the complainant. The respondent said that it did not determine that the issues raised by the colleague or his spouse were vexatious, although it decided that they did not form the basis of disciplinary action. It sought to separate the two employees from having to work together. The respondent stated that because of these issues and for operational efficiency, a decision was made to transfer the complainant to work on an alternate shift. It asserts that it is entitled to transfer a general operative in order to meet operational efficiency.
The respondent outlined that yard status is determined off a panel following a consultative process and according to service. It further denies that the complainant has suffered detriment because of the transfer. He is performing the same duties, except on an alternate shift. His remuneration has not been affected. It does not accept that use of one item of machinery represents loss or privilege. It states that training is provided to staff members as required for their duties. It points to the close proximity of the two depots and the practice of workers working from both depots. It states that the complainant has only been asked to work on routes from the other depot on three occasions since his transfer.
In reply to the complainant, the respondent said that it did not accept that there was any loss incurred by the complainant. One witness, the inspector, confirmed that he had interviewed the colleague and his spouse about the complainant’s visit to their home.
Findings and reasoning:
In mid-2015, the complainant was transferred to a different shift within the respondent waste management department. This followed a complaint made against him by a colleague, which was supported by another colleague. The respondent raised subsequent interactions between the complainant and this latter colleague. The parties acknowledged that this department has been subject to difficult staff management issues.
Since the transfer, the complainant has sought his return to his former shift in order to regain his former yard status. This was raised on the complainant’s behalf in correspondence of the 19th August 2015 and in other representations. The respondent has declined to accede to this request in correspondence of the 18th April 2016 and the 10th May 2016.
The complainant submits that he has not been found to have committed any disciplinary breach and that he has incurred detriment because of the transfer. He states that the respondent has not complied with the agreement covering redeployment, in particular the consultative and voluntary nature of the policy. The respondent submits that it is entitled to transfer the complainant for reasons of operational efficiency, with regard to minimising disruptions between the parties.
The complainant asserts that he has suffered detriment in the loss of yard status, for example in the selection of duties, training and any future transfer. The respondent acknowledges that the transfer has impacted on the complainant, but states that this does not amount to detriment. He has not lost out financially. It states that it is unable to adjust the complainant’s yard status on the new shift, i.e. to move him up.
Having considered the written and oral submissions of the parties, I make the following findings. The transfer of the complainant represents a long-term redeployment. As yard status is primarily determined by service, it affects the complainant’s standing vis-à-vis his colleagues. Quite simply, he is ranked lower in the allocation of duties etc. It also affects his relationship with the employer, for example he is less likely to be offered training by the respondent. It is because of the change in the relationship between the complainant and the employer that I recommend that the complainant be re-integrated to his old shift, in order to regain his yard status.
I fully appreciate the proactive steps taken by the respondent in addressing escalating and fractious interpersonal relationships on the complainant’s old shift. It took the initiative to separate parties in dispute, having concluded that it could not determine that any disciplinary breach had taken place. The complainant states that he is not guilty and challenges the veracity of a complaint made against him and a supporting letter from a colleague. He denies further allegations made against him. Even with the complainant’s denials, it is hard to criticise the respondent for its immediate response to the situation. The issue now is whether it is appropriate or fair to make a short-term intervention, effectively, permanent.
I am not in a position to make findings in relation to the rights and wrongs of the interpersonal disputes at play in this situation. There may be blame to be shared round. Given that no disciplinary finding has been made against any party, this is an issue of staff management. While the respondent was justified in transferring the complainant as a short-term measure, it is not correct that this should become a permanent fixture. I base this finding on the fact that the transfer alters the employment relationship between the complainant and the respondent, in particular that he is less likely to receive training.
I recommend that the complainant be re-integrated into his former shift and re-acquire his yard status. This should not be done overnight, but should be a managed process involving consultation with all the parties involved. Should issues re-occur, it will be open to the respondent to take the appropriate management or disciplinary action.
The Industrial Relations Acts requires that I issue a recommendation in relation to the dispute. Pursuant with the findings outlined above, I recommend that the complainant be re-integrated into his former shift in the respondent waste management department and re-acquire his former yard status. This should be completed in a timely and orderly fashion, in consultation with the relevant parties.
Dated: 19 January 2017