A former mushroom farm worker has been awarded €21,422 by the Labour Court after claiming she was forced to work more than 80 hours a week. She also said her payslips were doctored to show she worked less than the permitted 48 hours.
Ana Lacramoiara Manciu (30), a Romanian national, had taken the case against mushroom farm Stablefield Ltd of Clogheen, Co Tipperary, where she had worked between December 2012 and August 2016.
The case was an appeal of a Workplace Relations Commission decision under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, which states employees should not be asked to work more than an average of 48 hours over seven days.
The adjudication officer of the WRC had ruled Ms Manciu’s complaints relating to the hours she worked, the calculation of her public holiday pay and the calculation of her annual leave were not “well founded” and held against her.
But Ms Manciu, with the support of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, appealed the ruling to the Labour Court. Following a four-hour hearing in Limerick last month, the Labour Court found in her favour and awarded her €21,422.
The Labour Court found all three claims presented by Ms Manciu were linked to the question of her weekly working hours, as both her public holiday and annual leave entitlements were based on the hours she worked at the farm.
Ms Manciu claimed to have worked in excess of 80 hours a week as harvest manager, for which she was paid a fixed sum of €2,000 for four weeks. But Stablefield's owner, Tom Sweeney, claimed she worked about 40 hours a week.
The Labour Court noted in its ruling that where records of working hours are not kept in the proper format, the onus rests on the employer to prove that they complied with the Organisation of Working Time Act.
“The records presented by the Respondent [Mr Sweeney] to the court consisted of pay slips and pay analysis sheets . . . these do not offer any conclusive evidence of hours worked,” the Labour Court found.
“It was open to the Respondent to provide the Court, together with their submission, with decisive evidence of hours worked by supplying the primary records necessary to ensure compliance with the section of the Act.”
The Labour Court noted Mr Sweeney confirmed at the hearing he had not brought the documentation required and, failing to fulfil that obligation, he had then to provide evidence to rebut that of the complainant, Ms Manciu.
“In this case, the employer has not rebutted that evidence to the satisfaction of the Court. Accordingly, the Court must hold that the employer contravened the Act in respect of the hours worked as alleged by the complainant.”
Ms Manciu told the hearing that as harvest manager, she worked from 6.20am until 9.20pm, six days every week, and each day she got two 10-minute breaks, two 20-minute breaks and one 30-minute break, totalling 90 minutes in all.
She said she in effect worked 81 hours a week but the hours entered in the computer where all staff clocked in were altered manually by Mr Sweeney. She claimed they were false records that did not reflect the time she actually worked.
Ms Manciu presented a screen grab from July 28th, 2018, which showed her finishing at 9.20pm but Mr Sweeney said the computer records were right and Ms Manciu never worked more than 48 hours a week.
Ms Manciu argued that as a result of working an average of 81 hours a week, she was entitled to have her annual leave adjusted and she was entitled to additional pay for public holidays.
“The Court determines that payment of compensation to the Complainant for what the Court is satisfied was a conscious breach of the Complainant’s right under the Act is the most appropriate means of dealing with this matter.
“Taking all factors into account, the Court awards compensation of €20,000 for breaches of the Complainant’s rights under Section 15 of the Act,” the Labour Court ruled, before awarding additional payments of €1,422.