ADJUDICATION OFFICER DECISION
Adjudication Decision Reference: ADJ-00004339
Disputes for Resolution:
Complaint/Dispute Reference No.
Date of Receipt
Complaint seeking adjudication by the Workplace Relations Commission under section 13 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969
Date of Adjudication Hearing: 21/10/2016
Workplace Relations Commission Adjudication Officer: Pat Brady
In accordance with Section 41(4) of the Workplace Relations Act, 2015 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.
The respondent is a charity which provides nationwide programmes in creativity, physical activity and personal development for older people. It is funded by the HSE, other public agencies and from philanthropic sources.
It has fifteen employees, eight of whom are part time.
It is facing a severe financial challenge as a result of the imminent loss of one of its main sources of income representing about twenty per cent of its income in the years 2014 to 2016.
In January 2015 internal consultations commenced seeking to reduce the costs of a scheme giving Permanent Health Insurance and Death in Service benefit which currently costs the organisation about €12,000 per year. The proposal was that employees would contribute in increasing increments of twenty per cent until it was fully paid for by them.
Attempts to have that specific matter resolved by mediation did not bear fruit.
Other options are also on the horizon such as voluntary redundancies, short term working and salary reductions. It was proposed to set up a ‘Sustainability Committee’ but this too failed to get off the ground
Complainant’s Submission and Presentation:
On behalf of its members the union says that following discussions, management intended to withdraw the scheme from August 2016 but it has been postponed pending the reference to the WRC.
They have also clearly set out their position that this matter could not be resolved through conciliation or mediation.
The union is seeking a decision in relation to the loss of this benefit to the staff involved. ,
Respondent’s Submission and Presentation:
The respondent is facing a deficit in 2017 of €187,224.
It outlined in some detail various options that it has already applied to achieve what it describes as ‘Reconfiguration and cost reduction’. These included a number of redundancies and the non renewal of some contract staff, non filling of vacancies, and some lower salaries for new recruits.
It has some reserves which are available to it to find the organisation but by 2018 it would find itself in financial difficulty again.
It may have some possibility of replacing existing grant sources but there is no guarantee of this.
Accordingly it seeks a recommendation that it may proceed with the reduction of its funding of the scheme by means of incremental increases in the employees’ contribution of 20% per year to meet the full costs by 2019 (on the original timetable, now somewhat deferred).
Conclusions and Findings
The respondent in this case is indeed facing a very major funding challenge.
I am being asked to make a recommendation on a matter which would make only a very insignificant contribution to the resolution of that challenge, in year one of a mere €2,400, although rising over a period. I am conscious that it is also a significant benefit to the staff in the unhappy event that they or their families might have need of it some day.
It is very difficult to approach this matter responsibly by simply addressing the claim which has been referred for adjudication in isolation.
Indeed I cannot see the logic of identifying this small aspect of the funding crisis, which quite frankly will make little difference to the longer term solution to the problem.
There was some suggestion at the hearing that, given the funding problem it is somehow ‘inappropriate’ that staff should enjoy such a benefit.
This is a purely subjective view for which there is no particularly sound basis. The employees have enjoyed this benefit for many years and it is an established part of their conditions of employment. It can not simply be regarded as dispensable at this stage without their consent.
But in any event the obvious solution to it is to seek to seek urgent agreement with the staff on a package of measures to address the funding crisis. In that way the employees can decide for themselves which of the lesser of the various evils which may be under contemplation they wish to choose.
It may be that they will opt for the proposal under discussion but it is better that they be given a chance to do so in the light of clear options rather than have what can only be a fairly arbitrary decision imposed on them.
Indeed, while I note the respondent’s attempts to do so I am at a complete loss to know why the parties have failed to embrace the funding crisis on a joint basis and work out an effective plan to balance and maximise its ongoing and very important services with its staff resources. Valuable time has been unnecessarily lost in the process of even this referral.
For example, how the Union could assert, in the face of the facts outlined above that ‘the organisation is financially sound’ is, to put it no more strongly, a matter for deep concern which needs to be addressed urgently.
I feel I would not be serving the interests of the parties to isolate the matter currently before me from its broader and more logical context, and adjudicate only on the issue which has been referred to the WRC.
The parties need to engage immediately and very quickly to achieve a mutually agreed sustainability programme which will address its funding difficulties. I trust what follows, while fairly obvious might be of assistance.
Section 41(4) of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 requires that I make a decision in relation to the dispute in accordance with the relevant redress provisions under Schedule 6 of that Act.
I recommend that the parties now engage in an urgent process of consultation leading to agreement on a sustainability programme to be completed within six weeks of the date of this decision. All matters including the one in this complaint should be on the table for discussion and resolution.
This should take the form of something resembling the Sustainability Committee described by the respondent in its submission to the hearing, or something similar. It should consider all possible savings and fundraising options provided the latter are meaningful and likely to lead to real income for the respondent.
The parties should, by mutual agreement no later than seven days from the date of this decision decide on the composition of that committee and a date for its first meeting.
If it would be of assistance the committee should consider an engagement with the mediation services of the WRC or the conciliation service of the Labour Court on the basis of whichever is most immediately available, or otherwise engage a private dispute resolver, if this would assist its work.
However, it may not need to with the good will on both sides which was evident at the hearing.
Date: 24th January 2017