SHANNON AIRPORT AUTHORITY/SHANNON GROUP PLC
1.Healthcare Cover Concerning Airport Fire Officers
2. Certain health insurance costs incurred by three appointees for 2020/2021 & 2022 be re-imbursed
2. Concession of the claim would be cost increasing
1.That eleven workers who, of their own volition, changed their Health Insurance Plan in 2007, should be entitled to benefit from a 2001 arrangement which provided for self-insurance by the Company following a unilateral change by the Company away from the specific health plan specified in a 1993 collective agreement. The effect of the self-insurance arrangement was to maintain the level of health cover specified in the 1993 agreement following the change of plan by the company.
2.That three workers who were promoted on dates from 2020 should receive health cover rather than a €2,500 per annum allowance with effect from the date of their appointment.
The parties concluded an agreement in 1993 covering certain grades in the Airport Police Fire Service (APFS) which provided for Health Insurance at the level of VHI Plan D plus 30 units. In 2000 / 2001 the company unilaterally made a change so as to secure Plan C cover from VHI for the workers covered by the agreement and, in addition, to provide self-insurance arrangements so as to ensure that workers continued, through this combination of measures, to enjoy the health insurance cover provided by the 1993 agreement.
In 2007, eleven workers in the APFS opted to change their VHI health plan. The change of plan resulted in a change to the nature of health cover provided to the workers by their health plan. That change included a reduction in some elements of cover and the provision of a combination of various other benefits not provided previously under Plan D plus 30 units or plan C with self-insurance by the company. Another feature of the change of plan decision made in 2007 by the workers was a reduction in the individual BIK tax liability of the worker.
The Trade Union claims that the workers’ entitlement to health cover at the level of Plan D plus 30 units should be unaffected by their choice in 2007 to avail of another health plan offering different benefits to the plan they were placed on in 2000/2001. The basis for this claim is that the entitlement to Plan D cover provided in 1993 and maintained following a unilateral change of plan by the Company in 2000 / 2001 should be seen as subsisting despite the plan choice made by eleven APFS workers in 2007.
The Company submit that the workers made a choice of health cover in 2007 against the background of an evolving health market and, when that choice was made, no continuing entitlement to Plan D equivalent cover existed. The company submit that the choice of the workers in 2007 resulted in significant savings in individual BIK tax liability on the part of the workers as well as the provision of a range of health cover benefits which had not previously been available to them.
The Court notes that two APFS workers decided in 2007 to continue to avail of Plan D level cover through a combination of Plan C cover and self-insurance by the Company. The cover those workers continued to enjoy as a result of their voluntary decision in 2007 offered a different suite of benefits to the plan opted for by the eleven APFS workers who changed plan in 2007. The cost to the two workers of retaining their pre-existing arrangements after 2007 was reasonably significant having regard to their individual BIK tax liabilities and the fact that incidental benefits such as dental and other day to day medical cover were not provided to them under the pre-existing health cover arrangements from which they decided not to change.
The Trade Union asks the Court to accept that the eleven APFS workers who changed plans did not understand at the time that they were relinquishing their previous benefit structure and that instead they thought that they would achieve a new suite of benefits at lesser individual cost to them while retaining in full and in addition all of the benefits of the cover previously provided by a combination of Plan C and self-insurance since 2001 and prior to that by Plan D plus 30 Units.
The Court cannot accept the proposition of the Trade Union. If the workers who changed their Health Plan in 2007 did in fact believe what is contended for, there can be no explanation as to why two APFS workers would decide to retain previous arrangements rather than decide to change plan. If what is suggested were to be accepted, the workers understood that they were, in 2007, being offered, at a reduced cost to them, the opportunity to significantly enhance their health cover so as to include all previous benefits in addition to a suite of new benefits.
It is the Court’s view that the only rational interpretation of the decision of workers in 2007 was that eleven workers made the decision to forego the previous benefit structure enjoyed by them in order to take up a suite or mix of benefits in an alternative plan. Applying the same rationale, two workers opted to retain the suite of benefits they previously enjoyed and to forego the benefits available in an alternative plan which they could have access if they had opted to change plan.
In the circumstances outlined the Court cannot recommend concession of the Trade Union side claim.
This claim arises from the nature of health benefit provided to three workers who have been promoted to managerial positions in the APFS since 2020. The positions the workers occupied in the APFS prior to their promotion and the positions they were promoted into were covered by the terms of the 1993 APFS agreement and the change implemented by the Company in 2000 / 2001.
The Trade Union submits that the workers are covered by the terms of the 1993 agreement and developments since then in relation to that agreement and that no alteration to that collective agreement has been negotiated or agreed in respect of the grade to which the workers have been promoted. The workers therefore should continue to enjoy the benefit of that agreement rather than a unilaterally introduced arrangement which provides for payment by the company to the worker of €2,500 per annum as a contribution to the cost of health cover. The workers have received such a payment since their promotion rather than being facilitated to continue to enjoy the health cover arrangement available to them prior to their promotion.
The Company contends that the workers are now managerial workers and that it is an established practice across the company that appointees to managerial positions at the level the workers have been promoted to receive a payment of €2,500 by way of a contribution to the cost of health cover. The Company acknowledges that the positions to which the workers were promoted to in the APFS were encompassed by the 1993 agreement.
It is the often stated view of the Court that collective agreements which have been freely entered into by parties should remain in place until altered by agreement of the parties. In this case the three workers, through their trade Union, were party to a collective agreement with the Company which provided particular benefits in terms of health cover. Prior to their promotion each of the three workers availed of health cover by way of either a health plan chosen by them in 2007 or a combination of a health plan combined with self insurance depending on the choice made by them in 2007.
The Court recommends that, having regard to the fact that these workers remain employed in a grade encompassed by the 1993 APFS agreement, each of the workers should be provided with the health cover they enjoyed prior to their promotion.
If any of the three workers personally purchased health cover since his or her promotion, he or she should be re-imbursed the cost of the insurance purchased to a limit of the cost of the level of insurance cover enjoyed by him or her prior to promotion. The re-imbursement should relate only to periods during which health cover had been purchased and was in place. The re-imbursement should be discounted by €2,500 in any year during which a payment in that amount was made for health cover since the worker’s promotion.
The Court so recommends.