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Debt advisers slammed as 'penny pinching misers' after docking workers' Leap Year pay

Debt advisory service MABS had docked the paychecks of two workers to the tune of between €140 and €160 each.

shutterstock_370761920 Source: Shutterstock/aleg baranau

THE HOLDERS OF the purse-strings for the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) were yesterday slammed for their ‘penny pinching’ and ‘miserly’ Leap Year reduction on front-line MABS workers.

Unite sector organiser Ed Thompson made the charge after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found a MABS firm to be in breach of the Payment of Wages Act and ordered MABS to repay all monies docked to two workers as a result of a Leap Year calculation last year.

According to Thompson, the two workers concerned are “delighted” with the ruling and the two will receive between €140 and €160 each.

He said: “This was not about the money – it was about the principle.”

Unite represents 150 workers in nearly 30 MABS offices, comprising the majority of staff working for the debt advisory service and Thompson said that he has already written to MABS seeking that other workers who suffered a ‘Leap Year’ reduction from their weekly pay packets have their money paid back.

MABS operates 51 branches across the State and is funded by the Dept of Social Protection (DSP) through the Citizens Information Board (CIB), which is responsible for the disbursement of DSP funds to MABS.

The CIB in February decided to restructure the arrangements of MABS’ services which had led to fears from the Irish charities sector that the services provided could end up diluted to an extent.

However, last month Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar said he had been assured by the board that there would be no job losses or closure of services as a result of that restructuring, the nature of which has yet to become clear.

MABS told the WRC that it was instructed by the CIB to divide the workers’ annual salary by 52.18 to reflect the extra day in the leap year in 2016.

The method of calculation was implemented from 1 January last year and involved the gross salary of the two workers being divided by 52.18 instead of the customary 52 weeks thereby resulting in a reduction in pay.

In one case, one worker had her pay reduced by €3.11 a week and in the second, the worker had her pay reduced by €2.73 a week.

Without consent

Both workers felt very strongly that the reduction has been made without their consent.

According to the WRC report “while it was accepted that the amount involved in this case is relatively small on a weekly basis, it is not insignificant over 12 months”. The union also raised the increased workload the claimant has taken on over the past number of years.

MABS told the WRC said that they were fully bound by CIB instructions and argued that it has not made any unlawful deductions to the workers’ wages.

In his two rulings, Adjudication Officer, Jim O’Connell found that dividing the yearly salary by 52.18 is a formula that “is rarely used”.

O’Connell found that the contracts for the workers state that their salary is weekly and that the reductions were done without their consent.

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O’Connell said that he found the complaints to be well founded and to be in breach of the Payment of Wages Act and has instructed MABS to repay all of the monies deducted since 4 January 2016.

Thompson said that he found it ironic that the agency tasked with advising people in severe financial straits would make such a reduction.

Thompson stated: “Our members have had to endure horrific times with clients since the crash in 2008. These were people knocking on their door, suicidal about debt and yet the Citizens Information Bureau (CIB) can give an instruction to the local MABS companies, a penny pinching miserly approach to take a small few quid from our members. It is unacceptable.”

Thompson said that the ruling sets a marker down for anyone who intends to do it with other companies and they will now think twice about it.

Chief Executive of CIB, Angela Black said yesterday said that one of its functions “as competent authority for our funded services, including MABS, and my function as accountable officer, is to ensure that those services comply with their service agreement with us”.

She said: “We do not take on the role of employer.”

Black declined to comment on Thompson’s remarks that it had adopted a ‘penny pinching, miserly approach’ in instructing MABS to make the Leap Year reduction.

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Gordon Deegan

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