Waterford council firefighters lose appeal to review Labour Court ruling

Council negotiates with five unions and PNA and IFESA also sought recognition

The  Court of Appeal upheld the High Court findings that the recommendation could not be judicially reviewed as it did not constitute a determination of any rights or obligations

The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court findings that the recommendation could not be judicially reviewed as it did not constitute a determination of any rights or obligations

 

A trade union representing most of the 76 retained fire fighters employed by Waterford County Council has lost an appeal to review a Labour Court recommendation that it not be recognised for negotiating purposes.

Four retained fire fighters, the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) and its branch, the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association (IFESA), had sought judicial review of the Labour Court’s March 2014 recommendation that the council did not have to recognise the PNA for negotiating purposes.

The PNA is a registered trade union with a negotiation licence but it is not a member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The council employs 530 people of whom 76 are retained fire fighters. About 80 per cent of those are members of the PNA and the IFESA.

‘Breakaway group’

The council recognises five different trade unions, representing its employees, for negotiating purposes but not the PNA or IFESA.

In a recommendation of March 2014, after the PNA sought recognition, the Labour Court said the council had well-established arrangements in place for collective bargaining with authorised trade unions.

It said the applicants were, in effect, a “breakaway group” seeking to establish negotiating rights with the employer “through the convenience of another trade union with no recognised involvement in negotiations with local authorities”.

While entitled to be members of whatever organisation they chose, the applicants’ exercise of that right could not, in the circumstances of this case, imply an obligation on the employer to negotiate with their chosen organisation, it said.

Recognition of this group would have “a highly destabilising effect” on established negotiation arrangements and “greatly impair” the orderly conduct of industrial relations within the local authority sector, it said.

The core issue in the application for review of the recommendation concerned the jurisdiction of the Labour Court to make recommendations under the Industrial Relations Act when consulted about a trade dispute.

Recommendation

In 2015, the High Court ruled the recommendation could not be judicially reviewed as it did not constitute a determination of any rights or obligations. The applicants were only bound by the recommendation because they undertook in advance to accept the recommendation as a prerequisite to the Labour Court investigating the matter, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said.

Such an investigation was not an adjudicative process but rather in the nature of an industrial relations forum designed to help mediate trade disputes and offer an opinion about how such a dispute may be resolved, he said.

In a judgment this week, the three-judge Court of Appeal upheld the High Court findings.

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, giving the appeal court’s judgment, said, if the Labour Court decision was not simply a recommendation but had binding legal consequences, the result of this case concerning whether the courts had jurisdiction to review would be quite different.

He entirely agreed with the High Court that the Labour Court recommendation has no strictly legal effect and instead relied upon the “moral authority of the expert statutory body from which it emanates”.

The recommendation did not give rise to justiciable rights or issues which would permit the applicants to seek judicial review of it, he ruled.