The Labour Court has recommended Tesco Ireland accept Mandate Trade Union’s position on how social welfare illness benefit payments should be treated by the company.
The Court’s Recommendation, which covers some 15,000 Tesco workers, is the first since the government made changes to social welfare payments in Budget 2013 whereby social welfare payment will cease for the first 6 days of any illness period.
The Recommendation comes following a referral by both Mandate and SIPTU after the company unilaterally deducted illness benefit payments, which the affected employees had not received for the 4th, 5th and 6th day of their sick leave absence’.
As a result of the Labour Court Recommendation, members who had monies deducted from their pay whilst absent for more than 3 days should have it fully refunded provided the company accepts the Recommendation. In addition no further deductions should be made to employees who find themselves in a similar situation in the future.
Welcoming the decision Divisional Organiser Brendan O’ Hanlon said, “Our members will be delighted that the company’s actions have been deemed to be in breach of the existing agreed sick pay schemes that operate in the company. It means they will not be forced to suffer additional financial hardship if they are unfortunately absent from work due to illness.”
In addition the Court has recommended that all parties engage with a view to standardising the sick pay schemes across Tesco.
Background to the dispute
The dispute began in January this year when local representatives brought information to the attention of their union officials regarding the company’s intention to deduct social welfare payments from sick pay after the 4th, 5th and 6th day of any illness period.
This was despite the fact most of the Mandate and Tesco sick pay agreements clearly state that there is no payment for only the first three days of any absence. Employees during that three day period then receive their net pay less social welfare.
In a disingenuous move the company attempted to blame the actions of the government for their wrongdoing. This was the second time in the past number of years that the company has attempted to water down the terms of the sick pay agreements by its treatment of social welfare payments. The first resulted in a significant number of individual cases being successfully pursued by Mandate at the Rights Commissioner’s Service.
The issue was referred to the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) in April however the company refused to reverse its decision and said that they were only interested in reviewing the matter within the context of an overall renegotiation of the various sick pay schemes. Consequently the matter was referred to the Labour Court.
Brendan O’ Hanlon expressed the union’s frustration at the actions of the company: “It is totally unacceptable that employers – with whom we have comprehensive procedural agreements – should not only try to exploit situations which results in hardship for our members, but do so in a manner which shows little or no regard for good industrial relations and our existing agreements, which are designed to ensure compliance from both parties.”
In a letter to Tesco Ireland Mandate and SIPTU have called on the company to implement the Labour Court Recommendation and to make good any monies due to the our members without further delay.
However, and in clear breach of the Recommendation, the company in its response has stated that it will only address the issue of monies owed following negotiations on the standardisation of all the sick pay schemes, a position totally rejected by the unions.
A meeting of both union’s national negotiation committees is scheduled to take place to consider the Recommendation and the company’s erroneous interpretation of our agreement to determine what action to take in pursuit of our member’s interests.