An executive at Paddy Power has told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that the company's retail business is down by at least a quarter since the pandemic, and he doubts it will recover.
Pat Hand gave evidence to the WRC on Wednesday as the betting giant's parent company Flutter defended a pay claim by a retail manager who said she was blocked from working overtime after the first pandemic lockdown was lifted in 2020.
Sandra Maher, a manager at the Paddy Power betting shop on Brookwood Rise, Harmonstown, Dublin 5, has lodged a complaint under the Payment of Wages Act against Flutter Entertainment plc of Belfield Office Park, Dublin 4.
Ms Maher, an employee of the bookmaker since 2004, said she was paid €17.03 an hour by the bookmaker, typically working 48 hours per week over five days, including eight hours of overtime on evening shifts.
She said she always did the rosters for her shop, which were then sent to a district manager for final sign-off, and always put herself down for evening hours – a situation she said continued until public health measures were imposed to control the spread of Covid-19 in March 2020.
She said that when bookmakers and other non-essential retailers reopened 14 weeks later in June 2020, she continued with her usual practice, but was overruled when the roster was sent back.
“The district manager removed the two evening shifts. I’d just go in and the two nights would be taken off the roster and either someone else would have to work them or the shop would have to close,” she said.
She said on one occasion around Christmas 2020 her shop was closed for four evenings because she had gone to attend a wedding and the staff she said her bosses wanted to cover the shifts “weren’t there”.
“Rather than asking me to work, they’d close the shop,” she added.
She said she lost about eight hours a week for six or seven months between June and December 2020.
Mandate organiser Jim Fuery, who appeared for Ms Maher, said she had not received her full contracted hours, arguing the overtime was an "integral part of her continuing contract".
He argued that Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act required any cut to wages to be either required by statute or the prior written consent of the employee - and that therefore Paddy Power had imposed a “unilateral” deduction and was in breach of the Act.
He said Ms Maher was now rostered for 48 hours of work per week again.
Ibec employer relations executive Susan O’Riordan, for the bookmaker, said there had been no deduction.
“Overtime has always been voluntary, not compulsory,” she said.
She said Ms Maher had been paid for 40 hours per week between March and June 2020 and there were “never any issues with this formally or informally” from her.
Ms O’Riordan said Flutter Entertainment’s priority had been to pay all staff for their contracted hours without availing of any of the government support schemes in place at the time.
“Unfortunately, the company’s hands were tied because of the reduced trading hours,” she said, adding that there was no “business requirement” for overtime and therefore none could be offered to Ms Maher.
Paddy Power’s chief financial officer for retail in Ireland and the UK, Mr Hand, told the hearing he had written to Ms Maher to explain why the company was “no longer rostering overtime”.
“We couldn’t open til 10.30am, under government legislation, as a non-essential retailer. We wanted to ensure all colleagues got their contracted hours given that business hours continued to be down,” he said.
Ms Maher told the commission that the staff who were brought in to cover the evening shifts she used to do were on different contracts to her and that they were working in excess of their contracted hours. She referred to one person on a 24-hour contract who was rostered for 32 hours, and another on a 42-hour contract whom she said was doing “more than that”.
“To say everyone was doing their contracted hours – it can be clearly seen on the rosters that they weren’t, you know,” Ms Maher said.
Ms O’Riordan said the bookmaker disputed that Ms Maher routinely worked 48 hours a week and said her average over a year had been just over 41 hours.
Ms Maher said she had calculated it on the basis of eight weeks of payslips, but told the adjudicator she could provide more.
Adjudicating officer Catherine Byrne asked Mr Hand if Paddy Power's retail business was likely to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
“I would doubt it, as some people have migrated online. I don’t think we’ll get back to 2019 levels of business,” he said, but added that the company always has a requirement for overtime to cover sick absences and vacant roles.
He said the retail business had contracted by between 25 and 30 per cent, though it still had vacancies at the moment like most of the retail and hospitality sector.
Ms Byrne, the adjudicating officer, asked Ms Maher to submit extra documentation, and closed the adjudication hearing.