Crumlin Children’s Hospital has been given three weeks to produce a copy of a collective agreement it is seeking to rely on in defence of a pay complaint by a group of 60 theatre nurses.
The workers have all lodged complaints under the Payment of Wages Act and the Organisation of Working Time Act against their employer, Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin.
At the start of a hearing on Monday adjudicating officer Brian Dalton said at the outset that four test cases had been selected on a previous date which would act as precedent for the remaining 56 — but that he had not received confirmation in writing on this approach.
The hospital’s position was that it was now “not comfortable” with one of the test cases selected.
The dispute centres on rostering arrangements during a six-month statutory window before the date their complaints were lodged last year.
The nurses in the four test cases claim they were rostered to work in excess of their contracted hours — 42 minutes a week at one point during the period; and an extra hour later on.
They also claim they have not been paid their full public holiday and annual leave entitlements.
The hospital contests the claims and denies any breach.
“I think this is a significant case in that essentially there’s HSE guidance on how holidays are paid to nurses in this department. I think my client was surprised this case was taken,” said Ibec employer relations executive Cáit Lynch, appearing for the hospital.
She said the hospital didn’t have a “full understanding of what the case was” on the previous hearing date.
At the last hearing, the adjudicating officer noted, the hospital had stated that because the nurses’ shift patterns varied, the correct method to calculate their entitlements was on the basis of an average of their working hours across a five-week period.
The nurses’ case was that in they ought to have been paid on the basis of the hours they actually worked on bank holidays — rather than on the basis of a fifth of a working week.
Two of the four complainants in the test cases called on for adjudication described working four shifts a week between Monday to Friday, with the other two working a fifth shift at weekends during the period in dispute.
The hospital’s argument was that there were “patterns” in the nurses’ working weeks but that they were as a result of “accommodations” made towards the complainants whose cases had come before the tribunal.
“The hours were all subject to change,” Ms Lynch said.
“Subject to change,” Mr Dalton said, “But there’s evidence that these shifts don’t change hugely in the sense [that] the same hours follow week after week.”
Ms Lynch said the hospital was also now advancing a second position, arguing that there was a collective agreement with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association in place governing the employment of nursing staff at the teaching hospital which allowed for the pay and rostering arrangements at the centre of the dispute.
“I would like to know what type of agreement; I would like to see it,” said the complainants’ solicitor Krystian Boina.
Ms Lynch submitted that the hospital had received an email from the INMO stating that the issue had been “closed off” in 2019.
Mr Boino said he had not received the document and argued that the hospital had not produced any evidence of any such collective agreement.
Mr Dalton asked the hospital to produce the collective agreement within a fortnight, but gave an extended deadline of three weeks after Ms Lynch asked for more time.
The adjudicator closed the hearing and adjourned the matter, excusing the test case complainants from attending on the next date, which is has yet to be set by the WRC.