Saturday 18 November 2017

NCT tester fired over claims by whistleblower wins €47k

Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Arthur Carron
Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Arthur Carron

Gordon Deegan

THE firm that operates the National Car Test (NCT) has been ordered to pay €47,500 to a car tester who lost his job following allegations by a whistleblower.

Richard Mark Matthews was accused of driving vehicles belonging to other people to the test centre – and testing them himself.

An Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) found that there was no evidence to support the allegations, and the decision by Applus Car Testing Services Ltd to dismiss Mr Matthews "was unreasonable in all of the circumstances".

SIPTU organiser Paul Henry, who represented Mr Matthews at the EAT, said he had been treated "atrociously" by his employer and his sacking "was a knee-jerk reaction to an RTE 'Prime Time' programme".

The 'Prime Time' programme on Applus was broadcast in May 2011.

Former Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar told the Dail in February 2012 that eight staff had been sacked by Applus following investigations since the broadcast.

Mr Matthews – sacked in November 2011 – was the team leader at the firm's Drogheda test centre and was questioned by the firm on tests carried out on a number of cars following the whistleblower allegations.

These included a Nissan Micra, a Mazda, a Toyota Avensis, a Ford Puma, a Honda Civic, a Toyota Yaris, a Volvo, a VW Bora, a Mazda, an Opel Corsa, an Audi A4 and a Toyota Corolla tested on dates between January 2010 and August 2011.

Mr Matthews denied any association with the cars, other than his son's car that was tested at a different centre.

Mr Matthews was dismissed by letter on November 29, with the firm stating that Mr Matthews was in breach of the Code of Integrity for driving vehicles to the test centre and testing them.

The whistleblower had indicated that he or she was willing to be identified. But the firm kept the whistleblower's identify anonymous as it felt that the evidence was sufficiently strong.

In his evidence before the EAT, Mr Matthews said he never drove cars to the test centre for testing.

Mr Matthews told the tribunal the allegations against him were untrue and that he believed he was targeted by a disgruntled colleague who did not like taking instructions from him.

In its determination, the EAT found that the decision to dismiss Mr Matthews was unreasonable in all the circumstances.

The EAT found that "much of the evidence grounding the allegations seemed tenuous at best".

The employer made assumptions based on addressed and names that seemed to be without foundation"

The tribunal found that when the allegations were disputed by Mr Matthews, the firm made no effort to investigate further but simply did not accept his position.

The EAT also stated that having reviewed the meetings and evidence of the employer, it "can find no evidence that Mr Matthews drove vehicles to the test centre on behalf of others and subsequently tested them".

The tribunal stated: "It seems to have been a statement put to Mr Matthews with no supporting evidence save for Applus saying the whistleblower said it."

Mr Henry said yesterday: "We are extremely happy with the outcome and the strength of the decision is reflected in the significant award."

He said that Mr Matthews had not worked since his dismissal.

Irish Independent

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