Three cleaners were left working for years for An Garda Siochána without receiving written contracts of employment and on the lowest rate of the pay scale – one for over a decade, the Workplace Relations Commission has found.
The workers had accused the force of breaching their employment rights by failing to award them permanent contracts after four years' service as fixed-term workers.
Their claims, under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003, were ultimately rejected because of the "ambiguity" and "lack of documentation" provided to the tribunal meant it could not conclude what the cleaners’ employment status had been.
The workers, Lynsey Brennan, Amy Farrell and Samantha McDermott, had all been hired in as relief cleaners between 2010 and 2016, filling in at a number of garda stations and Garda Headquarters, and later performing full-time hours.
Their trade union rep, Paul Moyer of Fórsa, said that despite agreement by Garda management as far back as January 2021 that the women were each due a permanent contract, the matter "was not progressed".
Mr Moyer said the force’s "lack of engagement" on the matter led them to finally lodge complaints to the WRC in December 2021, with the matter going no further for all of 2022.
The position of each of the relief cleaners was that they "did not receive incremental credit, paid sick leave or other leave entitlements to which permanent employees in the grade of cleaner were entitled".
Ms Brennan said she had applied for appointment to the cleaner grade and was told she was "qualified for establishment" in July 2021 before that decision was rescinded as an "error".
Ms Farrell said she had asked Garda HR three times for a salary certificate so she could apply for a mortgage, with the certificate "not completed due to the complainant’s contract not having been finalised" at the time of hearing earlier this year.
Without the salary certificate, she could not secure the mortgage, the tribunal was told.
Ms Farrell added that she was "on the minimum hourly rate of pay", had "no security" and felt that she "could just be replaced" because she was a relief worker.
Ms McDermott, who had the longest service of the three, said the "main issue" for her was the question of annual leave entitlements.
An Garda Siochána industrial relations manager Sarah Hearns told the tribunal that the three relief cleaners had each been offered a contract of indefinite duration backdated to 1 April 2019 in an effort to "regularise" their positions.
The tribunal was told that these contracts were offered and accepted by the workers the month before the WRC was set to hear their cases in May 2023.
"Various ad-hoc arrangements for relief cleaner work were utilised by the respondent. The respondent recognised that this could not continue," Ms Hearns submitted.
The Garda rep said it was accepted that there had been "delays in bringing the contracts to fruition" but that it was "a complex matter which required input from various units and agreement from the senior leadership team" on the contractual terms.
Ms Hearns said the contracts, issued in April 2023, made provision for increments in pay – promoting each of the women from the lowest point on the public sector cleaner scale to point 5.
She added that the complainants' pay arrears for those four years would be calculated by the force and set against payments due by the workers under the public service pension scheme.
The WRC noted that the new contracts made provision for both pension contributions and incremental pay increases for each of the workers.
"There had been a satisfactory outcome to this matter, the complaint was resolved, and any further penalty on the respondent would be disproportionate," Ms Hearns submitted.
Adjudicator Kara Turner found that each of the women’s employments with An Garda Siochána "was not pursuant to any contract in writing or, if it was, no written contract or agreement was provided to me in my investigation of the complaint".
She said it was "understandable" that the complainants had come to the conclusion that they were fixed-term workers because of their interactions with Garda management on the matter and said there was "ambiguity" on their exact legal position.
This was because the parties had been unable to tell her how the relief panel was set up and run, and because of a "lack of documentation and information" provided to each of the workers by the employer, Ms Turner wrote.
However, the adjudicator found there was "no evidence" of a relief panel having been set up for a set time or purpose and noted that in each case the complainant expected "there was always going to be work for her".
Ms Turner found the workers were not fixed-term employees and so had no standing to bring claims under the fixed-term work legislation, rejecting their complaints as "not well founded".