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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018
Industrial Relations in Ireland
Industrial relation became increasingly popular over the past number of years with the increase of financial prosperity in nearly all industries. But as Ireland and the rest of Europe are in financial upheaval, trade unions offer employees a sense of security as their opinions are heard in numbers. This is vital as with the economic downturn many companies are becoming insolvent. Every week there are companies that have shut down their operations due to the economic down turn and we see that the live register increases every week. Therefore it is important that employees are united together by trade unions.
IR Industrial Relations
SIPTU Service, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union
INTO Irish National Teachers Organisation
ESB Electricity Supply Board
FDI Foreign Direct Investment
LRC Labour Relations Commission
TEEU Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union
ICTU Irish Congress of Trade Unions
ITUC Irish Trade Union Congress
CIU Congress of Irish Union
IBEC Irish Business and Employer Confederation
FIE Federation of Irish Employers
CII Confederation of Irish Industry
NIB National Implementation Body
IDA Industrial Development Authority
RTE Radio Telefis Eireann
IT Information Technology
HR Human Resources
This chapter gives a concise understanding of the formation of Industrial Relations in Ireland, dismissal and the law.
1.1 A Brief History of Industrial Relations in Ireland
Industrial Relations (IR) commonly denote the relationships between management and employees. Trade Unions are organisations representatives of employees. They first emerged in large cities such as Dublin, Cork and Belfast around the time of the Industrial Revolution. Some examples today include the Service, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) and the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO). (www.business2000)
Bunreacht Na hEireann (The Irish Constitution) guarantees the right of citizens to form associations and unions, but it also allows the State to enact legislation to regulate and control this right in the public interest. It does not impose an obligation on anyone to join such associations. (www.business2000)
Setting up the framework for Industrial Relations Conciliation and Mediation
The Labour Court and its Conciliation Services were established under the Industrial Relations Act 1946 to conciliate and adjudicate on industrial disputes. In the 1970’s, there were frequent official and unofficial disputes between employers and trade unions and between trade unions themselves. Strike in essential services such as the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), the commercial banks and public transport were common from 1972 to 1980 when strike activity was at its highest since the establishment of the State. This affected productivity and made working relations difficult. This also impacted on international trade – it gave Ireland a negative image abroad as a location for foreign direct investment (FDI).
In 1978, the minister for Labour established the Commission of Inquiry on IR to identify and address issues causing industry unrest. Its 1981 recommendations made way for a Labour Relations Commission (LRC) to resolve disputes through dialogue and conciliation separate from the Labour Court. The Industrial Relations Act.1990 provided for the establishment of the LRC in 1991. (www.business2000)
The principal for resolving IR disputes are;
The Labour Relations Commissions (LRC): The LRC promotes the development and improvement of Irish IR policies, procedures and practices through the provision of appropriate, timely and effective services to employers, trade unions and employees.
The Employments Appeal Tribunal (EAT): This semi-legal forum hears disputes over individual entitlements under legislation including dismissal, notice, payments and maternity entitlements, along with appeals from decisions from Right Commissioners under certain legislation, including the Unfair Dismissal Acts 1977 -1993. It is made up of an independent chairperson and vice-chairpersons and employer and worker nominees.
The Labour Court: Established in 1946, the Labour Court consists of a chairperson, deputy chairperson and ordinary member’s representative of employers and workers. The LRC can refer unresolved disputes to the Labour Court for investigation. Disputes can also go directly to the Labour Court if the LRC does not get involved. Appeals from Rights Commissioners depending on the legislation and matters under other statutes are also heard by the Court. When the Court investigates a dispute it usually issues recommendations and the terms on which it should be settled. In most cases, the courts recommendations are not legally binding.
Annual Days Lost due to Industrial Action in Ireland.
1.3 Dismissal and the Law
The unfair Dismissal Acts 1977-2001 was a significant development in the Irish labour law, as it provided a remedy to employees for unfair dismissals. Nonetheless, the Acts do not prevent an unfair dismissal, although employees may seek an injunction against unfair dismissal and there have been a number of developments in this regard in recent years. Following a review of anomalies and difficulties with the Act, an amendment act was passed in 1993, with changes principally favouring employees. (Wallace, Gunnigle, Mahon. 2004:35)
The burden of proof in dismissal cases usually resides with the employer, but the employee must show that he / she are actually covered by the Act’s provisions and that a dismissal actually took place. In general, employers bear the brunt of the Act’s regulatory force insofar as the onus of responsibility is on them to show that they have acted reasonably. The EAT then attempts to evaluate the employer’s (re)action and sanction with a view to determining whether it lies within the range of responses which a ‘’reasonable’’ employer might make. A common determinant of the tribunal’s decisions on the status of a dismissal is whether the employer followed fair and proper procedures prior to the dismissal. (Wallace, Gunnigle, Mahon. 2004:37)
The four basic obligations in regard to disciplinary procedural arrangements are as follows;
Investigation: An inadequate investigation of the situation on the part of the employer may give rise to a dismissal being unfair. Accordingly, a reasonable and fair investigation of the matter should be undertaken by the employer.
Hearing: The employer must put the relevant case before the employee, thus allowing him / her to respond. A refusal to allow trade union representation at such meetings is likely to render the dismissal unfair.
Warning: Prior to dismissal for misconduct or poor performance the employee should generally be given a series of warnings, thus providing him / her with an opportunity to improve.
Proportionate penalties: A dismissal will be judged to be unfair where the employer is seen to overreact, that is, if a lesser penalty would have been more appropriate in the circumstances.
(Gunnigle, McMahon and Fitzgerald. 1995:65)
The normal reaction of the EAT to a failure to follow fair procedures, especially those laid down in a collective agreement or written disciplinary procedures, is to deem the dismissal unfair.
1.4 Fair Dismissal
Fair dismissal can be categorised into the following headings: Conduct, Capability/Competence/Qualifications and redundancy.
This may take as the form of a single act of gross misconduct or a sequence of minor acts where the employee disregards relevant warnings. Dismissal arising out of alleged employee gross misconduct is one of the most common case types coming before a Rights Commissioner or the Tribunal. A fair dismissal under this heading normally occurs where the essential employer-employee relationship of trust is undermined. The tribunal has not established any objective standard of ‘’unacceptable conduct’’ which justifies dismissal. Alternatively, it evaluates the dismissal decision on the grounds of ‘’reasonableness’’ given the particular circumstances of each case. (Wallace, Gunnigle, Mahon. 2004:38)
Dismissal pertaining to the capability, competence and qualifications of the employee relating to work of the kind which he/she was employed to do may be justified. Competence-related dismissals tend to arise where the employee is alleged to demonstrate a substandard work rate. Capability-related dismissals normally relate to attendance at work. Qualification-related dismissals generally surface under the guise of lack of training, education etc. (Wallace, Gunnigle, and Mahon. 2004:39)
Dismissals on the grounds of redundancy usually constitute fair dismissal. This can be related to the employer ceasing business, reducing workforce size or no longer requiring the employee’s kind of work. The onus is on the employer to prove that a genuine redundancy situation exists and the employee can question the validity of the redundancy. (Wallace, Gunnigle and Mahon. 2004:39)
1.8 Constructive Dismissal
This is where the employee terminates the contract on account of the employer’s conduct, e.g. where the employer’s conduct constitutes a significant breach going to the root of the contract. Even in the case where the employee is not legally entitled to terminate the contract, a constructive dismissal may be argued it the employer has acted unreasonably. (Wallace, Gunnigle and Mahon. 2004:40)
This chapter examined IR in Ireland and the different factors associated with dismissal. This background information is vital in order to have a clear understanding of the IR dispute.
In this chapter the trade unions relevant to the dispute are examined.
2.1 Trade Unions
Trade Unions have traditionally been seen as the most effective means of countering employer power and achieving satisfactory pay and working conditions for employees. Trade unions are organisations that aim to unite workers with common interests while seeking to define those interests, define them, safeguard and advance them through their interactions with individual employers, employer associations, government, government agencies and other parties. The basic strength of a union is its ability to organise and unite workers. (Wallace, Gunnigle and Mahon. 2004:125)
By joining trade unions, employees provide themselves with collective means to redress the imbalance in bargaining power that is often perceived to exist between individual workers and their employer. Trade unions main objectives are as follows:
Replace individual bargaining with collective bargaining, thereby redressing the balance of bargaining power in favour of employees and reducing management prerogative in employment-related matters.
Facilitate the development system where workers interests have a greater degree of influence on political decisions and result in an economic and social framework which reflects the interests of wage earners and the working class.
Achieve satisfactory levels of pay and conditions of employment and provide members with a range of services.
(Wallace, Gunnigle and Mahon. 2004:126)
Irish trade unions have generally been organised on an occupational basis. The main challenges facing trade unions to date are;
Membership – changing workforce
National level agreements
See Strategic Priorities
2.2 Irish Congress of Trade Unions
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is the central co-ordinating body for the Irish trade union movement. The ICTU was established in 1959 as a result of a merger between the Irish Trade Union Congress (ITUC) and the Congress of Irish Union (CIU). The ICTU plays an imperative role at national level. Its role is particularly significant in centralised pay negotiations. The ICTU also represents trade unions on several national bodies and provides union nominees for conciliation and arbitration services. (Wallace, Gunnigle and Mahon. 2004:142)
The main objectives of ICTU are as follows;
Maintain right of workers to organise and negotiate.
Ensure full equality in all aspects of employment.
Support democratic system of government.
Co-operate in economic activities of nation.
Seek full use of Irish resources for benefit of Irish people.
Promote fraternal relationships with trade unions in other countries.
2.3 Technical Engineering and Electrical Union
The TEEU came into existence in 1992 arising from an amalgamation between the Electrical Trades Union and the National Engineering & Electrical Trades Union. Both unions can trace their origins to 1920 when union activists in British based unions believed Irish workers needed autonomous representation in the emerging Irish state. (www.teeu.ie)
The TEEU represent a broad range of workers throughout industry and public service. It includes
Technical administration and supervisory staff
The TEEU is the largest engineering union in Ireland and the second largest in manufacturing representing up to 40,000 workers. Owen Wills is currently the general secretary and Eamon Devoy is the General Secretary Designate of the TEEU. (www.teeu.ie)
2.4 The Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union
The Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) represents over 200,000 Irish workers from virtually every category of employment across almost every sector of the Irish economy. SIPTU provides the expertise, experience and back-up services necessary to assist workers in their dealings with employers, government and industrial relations institutions. (www.siptu.ie)
In recent years SIPTU has also played a pivotal role in the contribution made by the trade union movement to the success of the Irish economy while at the same time securing real improvements in living standards through increases in pay in the workplace and greater social provision in the community. (www.siptu.ie)
Jack O’Connor is the SIPTU’s General President and Joe O’Flynn is the General Secretary. SIPTU plays a major role in the affairs of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – in the belief that the more unity they can achieve on policy matters and strategy, then the more influence they are likely to bring to bear in negotiations with employers or Government. The principle that unity is strength applies at every level – in the work place, in the local area or at national level – and the Union tries to develop a spirit of co-operation among SIPTU members, themselves, and between SIPTU members and the members of other unions. (www.siptu.ie)
2.5 Employer Objectives in Industrial Relations
The primary concern for organisations operating in a competitive environment is to maximise organisational effectiveness and generate satisfactory returns for the owners/stakeholders. Although it is impractical to suggest a comprehensive set of industrial relations objectives because organisations vary so greatly in terms of structure and philosophy, but it is clear that a particular combination of internal and external variables exists; (Wallace, Gunnigle and Mahon. 2004:162)
Preservation and consolidation of private enterprise system
Maximise organisational effectiveness and returns for shareholders
Effective use of human resources
Control & authority in decision making
Good management – employee relations
2.6 The Irish Business and Employer Confederation
The largest employer association in Ireland by far is the Irish Business and Employer Confederation (IBEC). IBEC was formed on 1st January 1993 as a result of the merger of the then largest employer association, the Federation of Irish Employers (FIE) and then the dominant trade/commercial association, the Confederation of Irish Industry (CII). (Wallace, Gunnigle and Mahon. 2004:165)
IBEC represents business and employers in all matters relating to industrial relations, labour and social affairs. IBEC claims to have over 3,500 firms in membership. These firms employ some 300,000 people, or approximately one third of the country’s total employment. IBEC’s industrial and employee relations advisory and consultation services are organised on a regional basis. A major role of IBEC is representing its member firms at mediation, conciliation and arbitration hearings. (Wallace, Gunnigle and Mahon. 2004:166)
This chapter gives a background into the unions that were involved in the Green Isle dispute. An understanding of the unions is advantageous in order for the reader to have a clear knowledge of the unions involved in the dispute.
This chapter analyses the Green Isle Foods dispute in Naas, County Kildare. This issue involved the dismissal of three Green Isle employees for improper use of the company’s IT system, whilst the dispute was over the dismissal of three TEEU members through an internal disciplinary procedure that denied them any representation by their union. This led to workers on a course of action not seen in Ireland for many years. The workers were left on a picket line for in excess of six months. This triggered three employees to go on hunger strike in order to get recognised by their employer Green Isle Foods and the parent company, Northern Foods in Britain.
3.2 Background to the Green Isle Dispute
In December 2008, a Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) member opened a new icon on his computer entitled ‘‘Boardroom’’. The company’s management inadvertently emailed Declan Foley whose email address was similar to company manager Deirdre Foley, files related to the financial state of the company but it also included a Power Point presentation proposing the downsizing of Green Isle’s maintenance department. (www.socialistparty.net)
Mr. Foley showed his manager the file and shared the information with a number of fellow employees. When the company realised its error, it insisted that all employees who may have accessed the Boardroom folder sign a document confirming that they had done so and accepting it was a serious disciplinary offence for which they faced suspension. The men in question looked for advice from their union. When the TEEU sought to represent the engineers, the company refused to acknowledge the union. The men were suspended on full pay, while Green Isle Foods applied to the High Court for an order seeking full disclosure from the employees along with exemplary damages for breach of contract, confidentiality, interfering with the company’s business and all legal costs – including interest. (www.irishtimes.com)
The TEEU represented the men in court. Judge Mary Laffoy after hearing the evidence recommended that the parties agree a mutually acceptable process for resolving the problem. An agreement was reached by which all suspensions were lifted, the men returned to work and they agreed to co-operate with the company investigation. The investigation dragged on from early April until mid June 2009. Eamon Devoy, General Secretary Designate of the TEEU, wrote to the Green Isle Foods on 17th of June, asking that the inquiry into the Boardroom folder expire, due to the stress it was causing its employees. (www.siptu.ie)
The company issued a second investigation, unrelated to the first, on the previous day, June 16th, into the storage of inappropriate emails containing adult material on its computers. On the 18th of June it also issued the findings of its first investigation. This concluded that the company’s IT systems were not secured or properly monitored. Meanwhile the company pursued its second investigation without any involvement from the TEEU, employees refused to engage in the new process without union representation. The same individuals were investigated as in the Boardroom inquiry and they were dismissed on July 10th, 2009. (www.siptu.ie)
The decision was appealed but was later rejected on the 31st of July. The company also rejected an offer by the Labour Relations Commission to intervene. Dispute resolution mechanisms such as negotiation, mediation and dialogue, failed to resolve the dispute, this sparked the TEEU to issue strike notice on Green Isle Foods. Green Isle’s case was that its employees had committed serious transgressions and that they were afforded all rights in the investigation and appeal hearings undertaken by the company. At the end of February it was admitted by a director of the company on RTE’s ‘‘This Week’’ programme, that the employees did not have internet access and that the adult material was sent from an anonymous source to the employees email address. (www.kildarestreetdebates.com)
The members, whose positions had been identified as redundant in the Boardroom file, received redundancy settlements. These members were employees of ESS, a subcontractor on the Green Isle Foods site which recognises unions. Four months into the picket line, the TEEU referred the dispute to the Labour Court in accordance with section 20(1) of the industrial relations Act 1969. The Court heard the case on the 4th of December, 2009. The company refused to attend, stating that it did not recognise unions and therefore the Labour Court was an appropriate forum to resolve the dispute. Initially the company refused to engage through IBEC or any other third party, Nevertheless it was represented at the hearing by IBEC. (www.siptu.ie)
On the 8th of December, 2009, a recommendation was issued by the Court stating it was satisfied the dismissals were unjustified, that there should be an immediate return to work, full reinstatement of the men and compensation for loss of earnings. In the event that this was not acceptable to the two sides, the Court recommended that they should agree, through a third party if necessary, on a compensation package for the men. (www.siptu.ie)
Green Isle rejected this proposal. On January 5th, 2010, the court issued a further recommendation:
‘‘The court believes that the appropriate redress in this case is that the workers be reinstated without loss of pay and the Court so recommends.’’ (www.teeu.ie)
i.e. the dismissed men receive €40,000, €60,000 and €80,000 respectively, reflecting their lengths of service (7, 10 and 16 years), if they were not reinstated as previously recommended.
Green Isle also declined this recommendation. Employees (Jim Wyse and Declan Shannon) organised to meet up with management of the company to resolve the dispute through direct talks. Over a four week period, three meetings were held with no resolution. After six months on the picket line Jim Wyse adopted a hunger strike strategy as a means of last attempt to try and resolve the dispute. (www.siptu.ie)
Initially there were 27 TEEU members in the strike action but as the strike wore on some broke the picket line and returned to work and others, mainly contractors who were not directly employed by Green Isle Foods, found work elsewhere leaving 13 TEEU members on the picket line. (www.socialistparty.net)
On November 1st, 1913, James Byrne became the first trade unionist to die on hunger strike in twentieth century Ireland. On the 17th of February, 2010, Mr. Wyse became the first Irish trade unionist to go on hunger strike during the course of an industrial dispute in the twenty-first century. Mr. Wyse volunteered to go first as it was his suggestion. John Guinan joined Mr. Wyse a week later on the 24th of February and John Recto joined also on the 3rd of March. (www.siptu.ie)
Some hours before Mr. Recto joined Mr. Wyse and Mr. Guinan on hunger strike, John Recto was asked to call into Naas Garda Station, where he was informed that his work visa had been revoked. Mr. Recto was told he had until the 8th of March to leave the country. Mr. Recto is from the Philippines and had been working at Green Isle Foods for the past three years. (www.teeu.ie)
3.3 TEEU’s view on the dispute
Green Isle Foods Naas wrongfully dismissed three members and other members at the company were been out on strike in support from the 31st of August. Green Isle Foods had;
Refused to meet with the Union to discuss the matter.
Refused to go to the LRC.
Refused to go to the Labour Court.
Refused to engage in discussions at the National Implementation Body (NIB) through the department of the Taoiseach.
The Labour Court heard the case submitted by the TEEU on the 4th of December 2009, and the court issued the following;
Issued a preliminary recommendation – Green Isle Foods refused to engage through IBEC or any other third party.
The Court issued a further recommendation on the 5th January 2010 – Green Isle Foods continued to refuse to accept the Labour Court Recommendation or engage in any process to resolve the dispute.
Through frustration the striking workers decided to embark on a hunger strike. On the 17th February Mr. Wyse commenced his hunger strike outside the plant and was joined a week later by Mr. Guinan and by Mr. Recto a second week later. (www.teeu.ie)
TEEU held a National Rally and March for justice on the 27th of February 2010. A crowd of in excess of 700 people attended the rally. SIPTU General President Jack O’ Connor (also President of the ICTU) attended the rally and offered his support to the situation.
The TEEU received support from many organisations and people throughout the dispute;
Jack O’ Conor (SIPTU).
Martin Ferris (Sinn Fein).
Conor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Education & Science).
Bernard Durkan (TD).
Larry O’ Toole (Dublin City Council).
Patrick Nulty (Fingal County Council).
Dermot Looney (South County Dublin Council).
3.4 Green Isle’s View on the Dispute
Green Isle Foods dismissed the three employees due to a breach of the company’s Information Technology (IT) policy. Management at Green Isle Foods refused to engage with the TEEU, LRC, NIB, or accept the Labour Court Recommendation that stated: The dismissals were unjustified and called for the reinstatement of the dismissed workers. (www.joehiggins.eu)
Green Isle Food’s have received €43 million in State aid from the Industrial Development Authority (IDA). The Irish operation is a subsidiary of Northern Foods PLC which is listed on the London Stock Exchange. Although Northern Foods recognises trade union, Green Isle Foods has no legal obligation to recognise trade unions. Green Isle declined to attend the Court and it stated that it did not recognise unions and therefore the Labour Court was an appropriate forum to resolve the dispute. (www.eurotrib.com)
As Green Isle did not recognise trade unions the company sought to resolve the issue through individual basis.
On the 4th of March the dispute was resolved after six months on the picketing line and over two weeks of hunger strikes. Union leaders reached a confidential agreement with management in overnight talks. Both sides negotiated compensations for the three men that were dismissed from the company for alleged breaches of the company’s IT policy. (www.irishtimes.com)
In a joint statement, Green Isle and the TEEU stated that: talks which started at 5pm yesterday and ended at 8am on the 4th March 2010, resulted in both parties agreeing to proposals put forward by the independent mediators, Kildare TD’s Bernard Durkan and Jack Wall.
‘‘The agreement will be implemented, and accordingly, all forms of industrial action and other activity will cease with immediate effect,” they said. “Both parties will be bound by confidentiality under the terms of the mediation agreement.”
On the 9th of March John Recto’s deportation threat was lifted. This was aided by ICTU’s General Secretary David Begg and the General Secretary Designate of the TEEU Eamon Devoy wrote to the INIS requesting that the Recto family be allowed to stay. An online petition was launched and representations were made to the authorities. The Migrants Rights Centre and General President of SIPTU Jack O’ Connor also made representations on behalf of the family. (www.swp.ie)
This report provides an in-depth knowledge of an industrial relations dispute in Ireland. The Green Isle and TEEU Industrial Relations dispute was a prolonged dispute which exasperated both parties. A dispute of this magnitude had not been seen in Ireland for many years. It forced employees of Green Isle to strike and hunger strikes were initiated. It took a staggering six months for the parties to come to a conclusive resolution. Although Green Isle initially rejected mediation as a dispute resolution mechanism, it was then accepted by Green Isle on the 4th of March 2010.
This dispute may have been resolved promptly if Green Isle altered its Human Resources (HR) policy and acknowledged trade unions. After doing an abundance of research into the dispute the author feels that most companies would have been would have been apologetic to their employees and shareholders for allowing spam (abuse of electronic messaging systems) to enter through the company’s antivirus firewall. The author suggests that companies should improve their antivirus firewalls, to prevent such security lapses as in this dispute from happening again.
Turning down offers of mediation from the Labour Relations Commission and seeking to exacerbate a dispute whilst claiming to be trying to resolve it is a strange human resources management tactic, and the company might also review their human resources policy in the light of having lost two of their other Labour Court determinations and one Employment Appeals Tribunal prior to this dispute.
In the authors opinion the men at Green Isle were defending a basic civil liberty to be represented in their workplace by a trade union if they so wished. This is a right recognised in virtually every other European Union member state.
The author assumes that Green Isle’s method of not recognising trade unions is that the company feels it has a distinct advantage or that the company is in control over its employees. If a hunger strike was not adopted by Mr. Wyse, the dispute may have gone on for months after without any certainty of a resolution. The author feels the company should recognise trade unions as a number of its employees after the disputes were resolved left the company under constructive dismissal.
Under the Unfair Dismissal Acts, 1977 – 1993 the author feels that the dismissed employees should have either received re engagement, reinstatement or compensation. Instead Green Isle continued to not recognise the trade unions and turned down offers of mediation. It may have cost Green Isle more expense in the long run rejecting mediation and due to negative publicity. It also showed it had poor employee relations. Green Isle could have adopted other dispute resolution mechanisms such as conciliation, arbitration or adjudication. These mechanisms may have resulted in an earlier resolution.
Anon. (2004). A Brief History of Industrial Relations i
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