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Labour Court overturns €39k payout for worker despite HSE's 'entirely unsatisfactory approach'

The Labour Court was scathing in its assessment of how the HSE handles such cases.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE LABOUR COURT has overturned a ruling from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to award a HSE worker €39,000 compensation, in spite of the “entirely unsatisfactory approach” from the HSE.

The worker had been appointing to an acting Grade VIII position within the HSE in 2005, and was made permanent at that grade in July 2013.

The worker had sought to be given incremental credit to reflect the years she was “acting” at this grade.

It was their submission that incremental credit was granted to others, including their own line manager.

The HSE refused this, citing the terms of the Haddington Road Agreement which said regularisation would happen on a “cost neutral basis”.

The WRC adjudicator found a letter given to the worker to regularise their job to the higher grade amounted to an agreement that should be honoured, and recommended the €39,000 compensation.

Taking the matter to the Labour Court, the HSE reiterated that the Haddington Road Agreement applied in this case and it had been a long-standing policy not to grant incremental credit while staff were acting. 

Furthermore, it said that if it concedes this case, it would generate a “significant number of similar claims”. 

The worker, meanwhile, said that they were regularised as a Grade VIII worker prior to the issuing of a circular related to Haddington Road in October 2013, so the terms of that agreement shouldn’t apply.

Labour Court

In its judgement, the Labour Court noted that it had already dealt with similar cases that had come before it. 

“In both cases, the court expressed its disapproval of the inconsistencies in approach taken by the HSE to the application of incremental credit,” the Labour Court said.

The Court is disappointed and disturbed to note that the HSE has not paid heed to the Court’s views in this regard nor has it taken any obvious action to rectify such inconsistencies, the effect of which is to lead, inevitably, to cases such as this one. It is unsatisfactory for the HSE to expect the Court to uphold rules when it applies them with such inconsistency.

The Labour Court was even more scathing of the HSE in its subsequent assessment.

It said: “The HSE relies upon the terms of the Haddington Road Agreement to justify its position while it breaches the very terms of that agreement when circumstances suit.

It is the responsibility of the HSE to up-hold the collective agreements that it makes with the representatives of its staff. To fail to do so could be regarded as an abdication of this responsibility.

It said it was understandable the worker felt aggrieved, given the line manager had been treated in the opposite fashion.

However, despite “considerable misgivings”, the court said it had to side with the HSE’s reliance on the Haddington Road Agreement in this case.

“Notwithstanding the court’s concerns about the entirely unsatisfactory approach of the employer, the court is obliged to concur with the recommendation [of a previous similar case] that the terms of the Haddington Road Agreement cannot be re-opened before the court,” it said. 

As a result, the decision to award the worker the €39,000 was set aside by the court.

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Sean Murray

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