A yogurt factory worker who was accused of plotting a wildcat strike has been awarded over €4,000 in compensation and redress after being unfairly sacked.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found there was a "real and present danger" to the company – but that the worker had been "singled out" and "made an example of" in a rushed dismissal without proper procedure.

Bartlomiej Wilczynski, who denied his bosses' allegations, had his complaints under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 and the Minimum Notice & Terms of Employment Act 1973 against Irish Yogurts Ltd of Scartagh, Clonakilty, Co Cork upheld by the WRC in a decision published this morning.

The company’s production manager, named in the decision as Mr A, told the tribunal he was met with a sudden "wall of refusals" from all staff in its packaging department when he went to ask for volunteers for overtime that Saturday on 4 November 2020.

He said that a number of workers called out: "Give us more money."

The tribunal heard the firm paid minimum wage, rising to an overtime premium of €12.

Mr A said he understood Mr Wilczynski had "directed a no-show" for that Saturday, adding that with a whole batch of yogurt awaiting packaging the company faced dumping a "large volume" of product.

The company’s managing director and proprietor, referred to as Mr B, said he watched the staff and "saw them looking in the sole direction of the complainant", and called him in for a meeting.

Mr Wilczynski denied any knowledge of an instruction to staff not to work the overtime, Mr B told the tribunal.

Mr B said another worker with over 16 years’ service had informed the production manager that he had been told not to work the Saturday by Mr Wilczynski.

However, Mr B later admitted that he had not taken a statement from this worker, named only as Person X in the decision.

Person X had been set to give evidence to the hearing but "decided against it" and left, the adjudicating officer noted.

Under questioning from the adjudicating officer, Mr B said he was not prepared to name Person X to the tribunal but that he regarded him as "credible".

Mr B said the company had "no tolerance when service to customers had been threatened by the complainant and this resulted in [his] instant dismissal".

Mr Wilczynski wrote in his complaint form that he was faced with a "statement of guilt of persuading employees not to turn up to work that Saturday and that he was agitating for a pay rise", which he denied.

He said he sought proof and the opportunity to confront any accusers but that a defence was "not possible without proof".

He said he was sacked on the spot "because my employer thought that I was agitating for employee rights".

The complainant’s evidence, given via a Polish-language interpreter, was that he had "personal problems" which kept him from volunteering to work that Saturday.

Later, under cross-examination, he confirmed that he refused to work that day because he usually worked a different machine – which the production manager said the complainant was able to run.

Mr Wilczynski said he "could not possibly defend himself" against his employer's allegations as he was "not aware [of] who was behind accusing him of organising a strike".

The company’s solicitor, Eileen Hayes of Hallissey & Partners, submitted that the employer would be prepared to re-hire the complainant if he apologised.

Mr Wilczynski said he was not going to apologise for something that he did not do.

In her decision, the adjudicator Ms Doyle wrote that the company had clearly "jumped the gun" by dismissing Mr Wilczynski in spite of his denials and that it had failed to provide him with "fair procedures or natural justice to any standard".

She accepted the company’s bosses "anticipated an attempt to sabotage the product through absence" and that there had been a "real and present danger", but noted that there was no actual harm to the company.

"This rush to justice by the respondent over a two-week period… served to single out the complainant to other staff. He was made an example of."

Ms Doyle ruled that Mr Wilczynski was unfairly dismissed, but added that she had some "reservations" about his efforts to mitigate his loss of earnings.

She awarded him some nine weeks’ salary, €3,636, for unfair dismissal, and a further €808 in notice pay, bringing the total compensation and redress to €4,444.