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Tuesday 3 October 2023 Dublin: 16°C
Eamonn Farrell/
# workplace dispute
Ferry worker who lost 'sense of pride' after 40 years in industry awarded €80k in discrimination case
Awarding any less than €80,000 “would not operate as an adequate deterrent”, an adjudicator ruled.

A MAN WHO’D worked in the shipping industry for over 40 years has received compensation of €80,000, after the Workplace Relations Commission found in favour of the worker against his former employers. 

Matrix Shipping Ltd, which counts Irish Ferries as a client as it handles on-board ship management, was claimed to have discriminated against the man in dismissing him from his position on an Irish Ferries ship. 

He had started working in shipping in the 1970s, and had been an employee for Irish Ferries until 2005, when his employment was transferred to one company and then to Matrix in January 2012. 

Firstly, the company sought a ruling that the Equality Tribunal in Ireland had no jurisdiction over the claim as it is based in Cyprus, and any dispute should be settled there. Although the company employs 783 people, all bar 11 of them work away from Cyprus and on ships in Ireland, the UK and France. 

However, in part due to the fact that the man’s employment saw him journey from Ireland to the UK on a regular basis, the WRC adjudicator was satisfied that it could address the matter. 

Substantive case

A disagreement occurred between himself and a colleague led to a deterioration in his working relationship. 

The man submitted that he sought mediation from the captain, but said he later discovered that the managing director of the company had a friendship with the colleague he’d clashed with.

In November 2013, he was told by the managing director that he was being transferred to another vessel that was located in Italy, that had been recently acquired by company client Irish Ferries. 

The employee submitted that he hadn’t brought a new ship into service for over a decade, and he feared it was punishment for criticising his colleague. He said that, in response, the managing director told him he must accept the post or otherwise he’d be considered “off contract”, and that if he didn’t accept it “he could find something else to do”. 

In a follow-up email later that month, the man told the managing director that he had a medical condition and was reliant on daily medication, some of which involved self-injection, and believed he wasn’t fit to take on the training of a new vessel.

Furthermore, he said that because of the “threat of dismissal” he’d received, he’d developed a work-related acute anxiety.

In response, the managing director refused and said that he was not aware his worker was on a medication regime. As a result, the man submitted, the managing director found him to be in breach of the company drug and alcohol policy. 

At no stage was he saying that he couldn’t continue in his current role on the ship, he just didn’t feel like he could take the task of training in a new vessel. 

Nonetheless, by the end of November, he received an email requesting he return all keys in his possession and was told he wouldn’t be returning to the ship. 

The WRC adjudicator noted: “The complainant gave evidence that, at this time he suffered from a significant anxiety.

He had panic attacks as his future, which had seemed so certain, had been suddenly taken from him.

He was ultimately told in January that there were no positions available, the man said, and from that point on he was dismissed from the role. 

Employer’s defence 

In its defence, Matrix said that the complainant “lacks credibility” and his evidence contained a number of “unsustainable and specious claims”. 

It denied having dismissed the man formally, saying that he was legitimately required to transfer to a new vessel and refused to do so. By doing so, he put himself “off-contract”, it was claimed. 

It also denied putting him “off contract” due to a medical condition  or due to any discrimination against him. 

The company also submitted that it did not receive evidence to suggest the man was fit to return to work.

In her judgement, the WRC adjudicator notes she found that the evidence of the man was “compelling, consistent and candid”, and didn’t accept that his evidence was unreliable.

She says that, in judging the case, four questions have to be addressed.

  1. Was there a dismissal?
  2. If so, did the dismissal occur because of a disability possessed by the complainant?
  3. Was the complainant treated adversely at work due to his disability other than being dismissed?
  4. Was there a failure to provide reasonable accommodation?

To all four, the adjudicator answered yes. 

She found that the decision to dismiss the man was based partly on the fact that “he was suffering from a disability, of acute anxiety, and this therefore is a discriminatory dismissal”.

The adjudicator was similarly dismissive of what was judged to be be the failure of the company to provide its worker with “reasonable accommodation”.

She said: “The reasons given at the hearing were that they required an experienced [person] to train in the new vessel.

However, they failed to accept the bona fides of his medical condition, failed to consider his request for reasonable accommodation and failed to discuss with him any alternative. What should have been met with some degree of empathy was not. 

The company had failed to consider alternatives, she added.

In considering the appropriate remedy, reinstatement was not considered because it would have involved putting the man “back into a working environment where the working relationship has been destroyed”. 

Furthermore, it was noted the employee made efforts to resolve the matter that were met with “inexplicable resistance”.

He’d been working in the industry over 40 years, and his work gave him a “sense of personal pride and self-worth but this was lost due to the events that occurred in mid-November 2013″. 

Awarding the sum of €80,000, the WRC adjudicator said that awarding any less “would not operate as an adequate deterrent to a large undertaking such as” Matrix Shipping.