The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has heard Guinness delivery truck drivers signed a joint declaration saying the practice of undocumented keg deliveries was commonplace and continued at the firm, after 15 of their colleagues were sacked en masse.
Eleven of the dismissed workers have lodged complaints under the Unfair Dismissals Act against the delivery subcontractor for Guinness brewer Diageo in Dublin, Shannon Warehousing and Transport Ltd, trading as STL Logistics.
The sixth in the series of claims, that of Lucan man Stanislav Gradinaru, was called on for a remote adjudication hearing yesterday.
The mass sacking followed covert surveillance by Diageo security officers at a pub in Dublin’s north-east inner city which led their employer to accuse the men of making “unscheduled and undocumented deliveries of Diageo product” between December 2018 and February 2019.
HR consultant Brendan McGrath, who appeared for STL Logistics, said 20 such deliveries to the same pub were seen during the operation and some 70 delivery customers were interviewed, none of which “justified or clarified why Guinness trucks were stopping at that pub”, he said.
He said Mr Gradinaru and a colleague dropped off a single keg on 15 February 2019 – the same day two other STL Logistics keg lorries had made unscheduled deliveries to the same location, he said.
Mr Gradinaru told his bosses it was done at the request of a different pub on the northside of the capital – where he said a barman told the Diageo investigators that he “did ask the Guinness crew to drop two Heineken kegs” as the competitor’s delivery staff had been “difficult and unhelpful” when they were asked.
But Mr McGrath said the pub’s owner and the cellar man both denied any such arrangement and said there had been no swap arrangement with the pub under surveillance.
Mr Gradinaru “accepted that he did an unscheduled drop but claims he did it on the instruction of another pub”, Mr McGrath said.
“From a procedural point of view the company did everything, and it was reasonable for them to conclude that Stanislav did deliver a keg without proper authorisation and without proper documentation on a day when he was not scheduled to be at the [pub under surveillance].”
In common with the previous cases in the series, Mr McGrath said the company would not call any witnesses to give defence evidence.
Adjudicating officer Andrew Heavey indicated he may exercise his “inquisitorial powers” at a later hearing to ask questions of the respondent representative, STL Logistics operations manager Stephen Cunneen, who appeared at yesterday’s hearing but did not speak.
“Stanislav strenuously and robustly denies the allegations against him,” his barrister David Byrnes BL said.
He said the adjudicating officer ought not to interpret any admission his Mr Gradinaru had made as meaning that his client accepts he was “in breach of any employment obligation or any other obligation,” Mr Byrnes said.
In his evidence, Mr Gradinaru said he had engaged in the practice of moving kegs from pub to pub at the request of publicans on his routes from his “first days” in the job in 2008, when the drivers were still directly employed by Diageo, adding that he understood it to be a longstanding practice.
Most of his training on the job came from senior drivers and helpers, who told him his role was to “go [the] extra mile for the customers because you’re the face of the company”.
He said he delivered a keg to the pub under surveillance at the request of a bar manager at a named pub in north Dublin on February 15, which he later said was a 10-minute drive away.
“Why? Was it scheduled?” his barrister David Byrnes BL asked.
“Because I was asked for it – well, my mate [was asked] – to drop two kegs back to the [pub under surveillance] if it’s on the way,” Mr Gradinaru replied.
“At that time we didn’t have any issue doing that. We didn’t know it would be a sackable offence,” he added.
“Even these days my colleagues – or my ex-colleagues – are still doing this practice,” he said.
Mr Byrnes said a petition, which was submitted in evidence to the hearing, was signed by 18 staff and agency workers between August and October 2019.
In the petition, the workers stated that they too had carried out unscheduled and undocumented keg drops, had not been sanctioned for doing it or told to stop, and that the practice continued at the company, Mr Byrnes submitted.
“Inside of the company nobody told them to stop doing it. Not only my colleagues but even there are signatures from the agency colleagues. “Everybody was doing this practice before us, years before us,” Mr Gradinaru said.
“At busy times when pubs [are] running low they borrow kegs between places where they have friends or know the manager or whatever. They ask us to drop them back because it’s not a problem for us if we’re not busy,” he said.
He said that since he was doing deliveries at a rate of 200 kegs a day and visiting around a hundred pubs a week it was “difficult” to recall specific requests from publicans for ad hoc keg drops when he was questioned during the disciplinary process.
“Everyone who knew me over those eleven years comes asking me these days why I’m not working there. I still feel I don’t know why I was dismissed – only because I went [the] extra mile for publicans” he said.
He added that he never received a copy of the investigation report and only found out the other other staff had been investigated too when he received his dismissal letter on 31 May 2019.
“They were not investigating, they [were] prosecuting,” Mr Gradinaru said.
Mr McCarthy, for STL Logistics, asked why two pubs close to seven kilometres’ apart by road would be engaged in a swap arrangement.
“The pub next door is your competition. You’d not have a good relationship with them,” Mr Gradinaru replied.
He added that publicans were not inclined to call the office because they would be charged for an extra delivery.
Adjudicating officer Andrew Heavey told Mr Gradinaru his evidence had been “clear and complete” and thanked him for it.
Two more hearings in the series have been set down provisionally for a date in August and are expected to continue into early September
Mr Heavey has said he intends to issue a decision in all 11 together towards the end of this year.