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Friday 14 December 2018

220-cow dairy farmer to pay farm labourer almost €5,000 after a host of workplace complaints

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

A recent case in the Labour Court saw a farm labourer awarded almost €5,000 after he made a host of complaints against a dairy farmer for whom he had worked.

The man was employed as a farm labourer on February 3,  2016 and terminating on October 21, 2016 and while employed, his main duties were general farmyard duties including assisting in the twice-daily milking of a herd of 220 cows. 

The complaints arise from issues regarding the number of hours worked per week, the rate of pay for the job and the application of a premium rate for working on Sundays. The dairy farmer disputed the claims.

The farm hand, in direct evidence, stated that he commenced work most mornings at about 7am.  

The cows required milking twice a day so that it was around 7pm in the evening when he finished work.

In the time that he worked on the farm the complainant could only recall missing about five Sundays in work and he did not leave the farm during the day.

The complainant said that he did not normally receive wage slips. When he needed copies of his wage slips for an official purpose he had to specifically request them.

The wage slips provided indicated that he was paid €10/hr.

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The time sheets were presented to him for signing but they only had the date on them, the working hours section was blank. When the farm hand totalled the hours worked by him he realised that he was being paid much less than €10/hr.

The complainant’s mother gave evidence that during a period of about three months when the complainant’s car was off the road she would drive him to and from work and verified that on weekdays she left the her son to work at 7am and collected him at 7pm.

Sunday working was 7am to 10am and then 4pm to 7pm. The witness stated that she believed that the complainant worked about 75pc of the Sundays.

'The same ballpoint pen'

In response to the claims, the farm owner produced a number of documents reinforcing his belief that he had acted appropriately. These included a contact signed by the complainant, wage slips and attendance sheets.

However, the farm hand’s representative submitted that an examination of the working hours’ records presented at the hearing showed that the dates were all written in by the same ballpoint pen and, as this was an unlikely occurrence over a period of eight months, therefore the complainant’s evidence that they were all presented to him for signature at the same time was the more credible.

In addition the farm hand produced the wage slips that he said he had received upon request.

These wage slips differed substantially in content and form from the wage slips supplied to the hearing by the respondent.

The wage slip for Week 32 originally given to the complainant, for example, documented that he had worked 30 hours (5 x 6 hours per day) @ €10/hr producing gross pay of €304.52 (€300.00 net).

The wage slip presented by the respondent for the same period gave a basic pay of €304.52 (€300.00 net) without any reference to hours worked or hourly rate. There is an hours record for that period indicating 24 hours worked over 4 days (2 x 4 hrs., 1 x 8 hrs. and 8 hrs. paid leave).

When asked about this the farm owner stated that he could not account for the pay slip provided by the complainant.

Decision

The adjudicating officer said the catalyst for the complaints appears to be the issuing of the wage slips detailing a pay rate of €10/hr and the farm hand’s belief that he was being accordingly underpaid for the hours that he actually worked.

“If he felt underpaid at that rate how much more aggrieved would the complainant have been if he had been aware of the rate of €12.47/hr.

“In addition, an important part of the complainant’s duties was milking the cows. This duty was performed twice a day and by its nature had to be spread between early morning and afternoon.

The adjudicating officer said no evidence was offered that there were other persons employed to do this duty.    

“For these reasons I prefer on balance the evidence put forward by the complainant as regards his working hours.  

“I therefore find that the records produced by the respondent are unreliable in this regard,” he said.

Deciding the case the farm hand was awarded €450 regarding the non-payment of a Sunday premium, €1,000 regarding the requirement to work in excess of the maximum weekly working hours and €3,500 regarding the complainant being paid less than what was due to him.


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