Date Released: 22 April 2014
Workers at Errigal Seafood in Carrick, Co Donegal, have won a further victory at the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) in relation to attempts by the seafood supplier to implement wage cuts. The EAT has rejected an appeal by the company against Rights Commissioner decisions on payment of wages claims won by 24 employees.
Errigal Seafood implemented cuts in 2011, citing financial pressures. At the time of the cuts, the 24 workers joined SIPTU, which sought negotiating rights with the company.
The company declined to recognise SIPTU, instead forming its own employee consultation committee for collective issues. In 2012 the Labour Court recommended that Errigal recognise SIPTU for collective bargaining purposes.
SIPTU Organiser Vernon Hegarty said the workers were “delighted that their position was entirely vindicated” by the EAT, “although they regretted having to take the case”.
“The workers had already taken a hit in 2006, when they agreed to a move to annualised hours which entailed less overtime for workers,” Hegarty told Liberty. “When the company sought further cuts of 10% in 2011, the workers simply could not countenance that.”
“When the employer said the cuts were necessary in order for the company to survive because of financial pressures, the workers asked to see the financial data so that they could make an informed judgment. The company never
showed them the data. The workers were ready to negotiate based on an informed position.”
Hegarty said the company “had never acted on any recommendation made by a third party” in relation to these issues.
In the wage deduction appeal cases, the EAT pointed to legal and contractual factors in determining that it could not uphold the deduction of staff remuneration in May 2011.
Both the Payment of Wages Act 1991 and the Errigal contract of employment determine that wages cannot be deducted without the written consent of the employee.
The EAT said that Errigal “did not advance its own case for a deduction as it opted not to fully engage with the respondents as to the reported serious financial situation it was facing at the relevant time”.
A minority of employees at Errigal Seafood consented to the May 2011 deduction. The claimants did not consent, and they took their case to a Rights Commissioner, who found in their favour. The company then unsuccessfully appealed these decisions to the EAT.