With employers like these, some workers must simply EAT their lot

Employment Appeals Tribunal was the most colourful place in Irish industrial relations

It will be farewell to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) in the new year, when it is subsumed into the new Workplace Relations Commission, whose hearings, unlike the EAT, will be heard in private.

Pity, as the tribunal was the most colourful place in Irish industrial relations, if that’s a coup.

This week, the tribunal awarded a total of €35,000 to two former croupiers at the Castlebar Card Club casino, after they were let go in 2011 and offered just €10 each in compensation.

Martin Silke, a Mayo-born professional poker player, fronted the club and was one of the respondents in the case.

He told a local newspaper in 2010 he hadn’t had to work for two years on the back of his winnings on the professional circuit.

Last month Joe Smith, a supervisor at airplane food supplier Gate Gourmet, was awarded €50,000 after the EAT found he was unfairly sacked after getting the blame for a two months out-of-date chicken wrap.

Also in November, Albano di Vetta got €13,000 at the tribunal after he was sacked from a Dublin chipper’s called Gino when he left work early because his wife was ill. His employer was his brother, Luigi.

Or what about Dublin Cineworld employee Carl Meade, who paid for a regular hotdog and a packet of wine gums for himself using his staff discount. The cinema said he ate a large hotdog and Maltesers, not wine gums, and sacked him. The tribunal awarded him €20,000.

Some of the cases can be distressing. In September, the tribunal adjudicated on the case of a "vulnerable" man who worked at Dairymaster, a Kerry company.

He became ill with stress after being constantly bullied by a supervisor, who called him a “fat tub of s**t” in front of staff.

The man had a problem with haemorrhoids, and each time he returned from the toilet the supervisor tapped his watch. He was made to clean a septic tank, which the supervisor, as he stood over him, sneeringly told him would be “nice in a sandwich”. The tribunal awarded him €25,000.

Despite perennial bleating from some small business groups about oppressive red tape strangling enterprise, there is clearly no shortage of bad employers who need to be reined in. And they have no excuse.

Why, then, is there such intense pressure to cut the resources allocated to employment rights in Ireland?

Acute shortage


National Employment Rights Authority

, which conducts all labour inspections and is one of the five bodies to be sucked into the new commission, had 130 staff at the end of 2008.

Five and a half years later, when the recession had undoubtedly increased exploitation like that seen in the tribunal, it had 107.

An internal briefing document prepared by the Department of Jobs in the summer warned of an acute shortage of State staff enforcing employment rights.

The same document also trumpeted that the establishment of the commission, which will save about €2 million, will “yield a dividend” of more than 20 staff who could be reallocated elsewhere. Hurray.

Efficiency is great and all. But when you have employers sacking staff and offering them a tenner to walk away, surely Ireland needs more resources to combat bad employers, not less.