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Stobart hit with €260,000 unfair dismissal claim

Dublin, Ireland: Two former employees of a haulage company Stobart Ireland, who were fired after being accused of encouraging unlawful industrial action, have been awarded more than €260,000 in compensation by the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

Desmond Ward, Oberstown, Naas, Co Kildare, and Michael Carroll, of Rathmuc, Kildare town, were awarded €122,304 and €138,632 respectively by the tribunal after it found that they were unfairly dismissed by their employer Stobart (Ireland) Limited, based in Distribution Centre, Tolka Quay Road in Dublin Port.

Ward and Carroll had been employees of Tesco Ireland for more than seven years when, in October 2009, they were informed that the haulage division of the company was to be taken over by Stobart by way of a transfer of undertakings the following month.

As employees of Tesco Ireland, the workers had enjoyed a “privilege card” which would be lost to them after the transfer.  By way of compensation for this loss, the Labour Court ruled that they receive €5,000 compensation from Tesco Ireland.

When the now-transferred employees had not received this payment by mid-December, the workforce began to grow anxious that they would ever be paid.

As shop stewards for the union within Stobart, Ward and Carroll were at the forefront of the dispute and found themselves in leadership roles for which they had little or no training, the tribunal heard.

Following a meeting of the employees it was decided that a work stoppage would be implemented until such time as written confirmation was received regarding the €5,000 payment.

The employees felt that Stobart would be able to put pressure on Tesco Ireland (still a client of Stobart) to pay the sum.

Stobart argued that it was a matter for Tesco Ireland to handle.  After unsuccessful attempts to solve the dispute through the union, Stobart suspended everyone who had refused to work leading to a protest outside their gates.  The matter was settled when the workers received a letter from Tesco guaranteeing payment.

Stobart then conducted an investigation into the work stoppage.  As union shop stewards, Ward and Carroll were accused of actively misleading the workforce and encouraging participation in unofficial and illegal industrial action.

In making its decision the tribunal ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to demonstrate beyond doubt that Ward or Carroll knowingly misled their colleagues or incited other persons into illegal activity.

The tribunal found that the men were unfairly dismissed and granted them compensation under the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977 to 2007.

Siptu members at the Stobart distribution company are to take one-day industrial action next Thursday to highlight a number of grievances over their working conditions.

Stobart Ireland has described the union’s claims as misleading, and says its future plans for investing here “are threatened by this type of irresponsible behaviour by Siptu”.