Speed van operators who claimed they were denied breaks lose at WRC

Trade union rep argued they could not take lunch or welfare breaks while monitoring

Four speed van operators who claimed they were unlawfully denied their shift breaks because they had to “constantly” monitor their camera systems have lost their claims at the Workplace Relations Commission.

The workers’ trade union rep argued their vans didn’t have toilets or canteen facilities and that as they didn’t have time in their schedules to stop between monitoring sessions there was no prospect of them having the time in the day to take lunch or welfare breaks.

Their complaints under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, which had been denied by the speed van operator, Road Safety Operations Ireland Ltd, trading as GoSafe, were rejected by the tribunal in a decision issued on Friday morning.

At a joint hearing into the claims by operators Niall Walsh, Tony Roche, Richard Free and Kevin O’Brien at the WRC offices in Ennis, Co Clare, Mr Walsh gave evidence that he had to “constantly monitor weather conditions to adjust the clarity of photographs” of passing vehicles, and that this meant it was impossible to take a 15-minute break in the van.

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He said he did his best to take his welfare breaks in transit between his surveillance sessions but that it was “extremely difficult” because of “tight scheduling”.

Under cross-examination from the company’s barrister, Kevin Bell BL, Mr Walsh accepted he is “not required to watch the weather conditions” and that the speed detections are “carried out by the apparatus, not the operator”.

Mr Bell suggested to Mr Walsh that the drivers were “free to do what [they] liked in the van” and asked whether his concerns were satisfied.

Mr Walsh replied that he would “have to know a lot more detail about that”.

The company’s position was that the operators only had to “occasionally” check the monitoring equipment.

“Once the equipment is set up, technology takes over,” the company’s general manager Pat McGuire told the hearing.

Operators called to the District Court to give evidence on speeding detections would state that an alleged offence was “equipment-detected” and that “nobody interfered with the equipment”, he said.

He said there were national ballots on break arrangements and “no indication” that any of the four complainants were not satisfied – adding that if a majority of drivers in a particular area had wanted a change it “would be facilitated”.

Mr Bell said GoSafe operators were “by mutual consent” taking their breaks in their vans “during periods of relative inactivity” – adding that they had been given heated lunch boxes for use in the vans for their meals at remote locations.

The tribunal was told votes were held on the matter asking workers to choose between being going unpaid for their shift breaks and taking them between monitoring sessions “in a coffee shop, petrol station, [or] hotel”; and taking a break in the van and continuing to be paid for them.

It was noted that just one of 74 drivers polled opted for the unpaid break option in 2013, and when similar options were put to 86 drivers in 2018, again only one of them voted for the unpaid option.

The employer acknowledged that these votes were not a “formal agreement” seeking a derogation from statutory entitlements, but were an effort to “canvass” views.

In her decision, adjudicating officer Ewa Sobanska wrote that in each case there was no dispute that the workers were expected to stay in or near the vans, but that it seemed the complainant “is not required to carry out or perform his duties during the period of his breaks”.

She found all four complaints to be “not well founded”.