Clerical officer loses appeal over entitlement to higher pay

Judge expressed ‘considerable sympathy’ for Charles Stefanazzi’s arguments and made no order for costs

 Mr Justice Michael McGrath said he  was lead, ‘not without some hesitation’, to the conclusion it would be inappropriate to interfere with the determination of the Labour Court. File image Collins Courts

Mr Justice Michael McGrath said he was lead, ‘not without some hesitation’, to the conclusion it would be inappropriate to interfere with the determination of the Labour Court. File image Collins Courts

 

A clerical officer in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht who claimed he was entitled to higher pay because he was performing duties at executive officer level has lost his High Court action.

Mr Justice Michael McGrath expressed “considerable sympathy” for Charles Stefanazzi’s arguments concerning the duties being fulfilled by him but said the court must rule against him on a narrow basis. Because he considered the issues raised by Mr Stefanazzi in his proceedings against the Labour Court were important, the judge made no order for costs, meaning each side pays their own costs.

Mr Stefanazzi, representing himself, appealed to the High Court arising from a 2016 Labour Court determination upholding an adjudication officer’s rejection of his claim of entitlement to a higher rate of pay. He was employed from 2007 as a clerical officer in the Site Designation and Plans Unit of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, now under the control of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

He argued, although employed as a clerical officer, he had for some considerable time been fulfilling the duties of a geographic information systems (GIS) technician at executive officer level, which attracts a higher rate of pay. He has a Masters degree in Spatial Information Management/GIS.

The Labour Court described his core argument as being that the Department had failed to pay wages properly due to him, and this failure constituted a deduction under the Payment of Wages Act 1991. The Labour Court decided the case could be addressed by deciding a preliminary issue whether a higher rate of pay was properly payable to Mr Stefanazzi at the material time.

It determined no procedure had been followed by the Department which would create a rate of pay properly payable to Mr Stefanazzi, other than that which he did receive at the material time, and his appeal must fail.

Mr Stefanazzi then appealed to the High Court on a point of law, alleging the Labour Court made a number of errors, including it failed to recognise the alleged breach of the 1991 Act.

In his judgment on Wednesday, Mr Justice McGrath said the Labour Court had the power to proceed in this case by way of preliminary ruling. While “little insight” was presented as to the basis upon which it was concluded by the Labour Court that the issue of how wages become properly payable to a civil servant was potentially determinative of the issues before it, it would seem this was a procedure the Labour Court itself raised and adopted.

As the parties had accepted the decision to proceed via a preliminary issue, it was difficult to see how a party subsequently disappointed by the outcome could be entitled to protest the procedures employed were unfair or arose as an error of law, he said.

The judge said he had “considerable sympathy” for Mr Stefanazzi, a “most courteous” individual and, on the basis of the information before the court, a “very diligent worker”, concerning his arguments about the nature of the duties being fulfilled by him, many of which tended to corroborate his argument he was in fact fulfilling the duties of a GIS technician.

However, the express determination of the Labour Court reflects an agreed approach to the determination of the issue on the preliminary basis as proposed by the Labour Court, he said.

He was lead, “not without some hesitation”, to the conclusion it would be inappropriate to interfere with the determination of the Labour Court on this basis. The judge was also satisfied there was material before the Labour Court upon which it was open to reach the conclusion it had.