Councillor resigns from Labour after former employee awarded €11,000 over employment rights breaches

Party was not aware of WRC case against Dún Laoghaire-based Juliet O’Connell until it received a press query on Friday

A Dún Laoghaire-based Labour councillor has resigned from the party after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) awarded one of her former employees more than €11,000 after finding the woman’s employment rights were breached a number of times.

Labour said it only became aware of the WRC’s finding against Cllr Juliet O’Connell on Friday following a press query about the matter. It said Ms O’Connell, who had previously been the party’s small business spokeswoman, would not be a candidate for Labour in the upcoming local elections.

“The party immediately moved to activate internal processes to establish the circumstances of what had happened,” it said. “The findings of this case are completely at odds with our party values and long established position on protecting, promoting and strengthening workers’ rights.”

Ms O’Connell was found to have underpaid a Bolivian seamstress, who said she resigned out of fear of being deported, by thousands of euro when compared to the salary set out in a job offer letter used to support the woman’s work visa application.


Patricia Oropeza-Vedia secured awards of back pay and compensation on foot of complaints under the Payment of Wages Act 1991, the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 against Juliet O’Connell Ltd, trading as The Zip Yard Dún Laoghaire.

The tribunal heard that Ms Oropeza-Vedia came to Ireland in 2019 on a student visa with qualifications in pattern-making, dressmaking and interior design. She worked part-time for Ms O’Connell’s company initially before agreeing to go full-time on condition that she could get an employment permit.

The worker’s role was described as a “business development interior designer” with a base salary of €30,000 in a job offer letter from her employer, which Ms Oropeza-Vedia submitted in support of a work permit application in December 2020.

However, the complainant said in evidence that although she went to customers’ homes to take measurements, when she was in the shop doing alterations and making curtains, she was expected to look after customers at the counter. She told the tribunal she “felt pressurised to do the additional work” and “was afraid that if she didn’t cooperate, her work permit would be withdrawn”.

When Ms Oropeza-Vedia attempted to renew her work permit early last year, her application was rejected on the grounds that her Revenue record indicated she had been earning less than what was stated in her original visa application. She resigned on February 7th, 2023 because she was afraid of being deported if found to be working illegally.

Ms O’Connell, who appeared before the tribunal as respondent-in-person, said she had documents which would show the complaints were “without substance” but that she had not brought them to the hearing last August.

The adjudicator noted that Ms O’Connell turned down the offer of an adjournment so that working time records and other material could be produced. Ms O’Connell said she would send them into the tribunal.

The businesswoman told the tribunal in subsequent correspondence that she was “suffering from stress because of the WRC investigation” and had “been advised not to attend a resumed hearing”.

In her decision, adjudicator Catherine Byrne said that while Ms O’Connell’s firm was already subject to a direction to pay €4,800 to the worker on foot of the WRC inspection, nothing had been paid as Ms Oropeza-Vedia sought to have the entire matter be dealt with by adjudication.

Ms Byrne found there was a shortfall of €6,016 in Ms Oropeza-Vedia’s gross wages between February 2022 and February 2023, when she had been paid between €459.26 and €480 gross a week. The worker’s earnings were €23,984 for a 52-week period when the wages “properly payable” were €30,000 under the work permit, she wrote.

Ms Byrne added that the job description provided by the worker characterising her as an interior designer “fails to explain the reality of her role in the respondent’s business”. The total awarded was €11,417.