HUNDREDS of firefighters have lost a bid to boost their holiday entitlements.
It is the first dispute over government plans introduced by Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin to standardise holidays across the public sector.
These plans mean annual leave should range from a minimum of 22 days to a maximum of 32 days from January.
Nine-hundred Dublin firefighters, who claimed they got 23 days off a year, said that three of these days -- known as "winter leave" -- were not part of their annual holidays.
They argued that their annual leave entitlement was therefore 20 days, and that this should increase to 22 days under the new rules.
As they would continue to get the three "winter leave" days on top of this, they would end up with 25 days off.
But the Labour Court has rejected their claim that winter leave is not part of annual leave.
It found that winter leave was part of their regular holidays, noting that it is "clearly annual leave because it is granted annually".
The city council had warned that an increase in firefighters' holidays would "have significant financial implications".
"We are assessing the implications of the recommendation and will be discussing it with the unions in the new year," said a council spokesman.
He was unable to say when the "winter leave" days were taken or whether they were the normal arrangement at other local authorities.
The council argued that the firefighters enjoyed "very generous" leave and roster arrangements.
It claimed they got 24 days of annual leave -- compared with the unions' claim that they got 20 days plus three winter days.
The council said their entitlement was above the minimum proposed in the plans to standardise holidays.
In its recommendation, which has just been issued, the court found that the firefighters got 24 days off as well as holidays for working more than 39 hours a week.
It found there was no documentation to explain how or why winter days were given.
It said winter leave was probably granted in recognition of the firefighters working shifts.
"There is no record in which the origin or purpose of the three days is clearly described one way or the other," it said.
"The city council is unable to say with any degree of confidence why, or when, the disputed leave was introduced."
It said the council thought it was brought in in 1970 in recognition of the hours then worked by the fire brigade.
The unions said they believed it was introduced in 1968 to bring the firefighters' leave into line with other municipal employees.
"However, the evidence relied upon by both sides is almost entirely anecdotal," said the court.
Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin announced plans in November to bring an end to out-of-date leave arrangements.