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Home / News / Minister’s ex-driver let go in sham redundancy, WRC told

Minister’s ex-driver let go in sham redundancy, WRC told

Government minister Charlie McConalogue’s former driver has claimed he was let go from the job in a “sham” redundancy process which left him to choose between the prospect of a job in a dole office or ending 40 years’ service to the State with a severance package.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) today heard a complaint against the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 by ex-driver Trevor Shaw, 65, whose job was terminated on foot of the change on Christmas Day 2022.

It happened in 2022 after the Government moved to make the driving of most ministerial cars a garda job on security grounds – reversing a decision taken to civilianize the position as an austerity measure a decade earlier, the tribunal heard.

A senior official in the Department of Agriculture denied under questioning from a WRC adjudicator that it acted with “absolutely no regard” for the employment rights of the drivers when the decision came down.

Mr Shaw worked as a ministerial driver from 2004 to 2022.

He retired from the gardaí in 2011 after 31-and-a-half years of service to keep up the driving work when civilians initially replaced gardaí, the tribunal was told.

The WRC heard a complaint against the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977

His solicitor Ellen Walsh, of Sean Ormonde Solicitors, said the Department of Agriculture’s handling of the matter was a “fiasco” which failed to honour her client’s employment rights, branding it a “sham redundancy”.

The State denies the complaint and any rights breach.

State counsel Declan Harmon BL said: “It arose on foot of security advice received by the Government. What else was the department to do in the circumstances?

“The role no longer existed, because it was going to be fulfilled by garda personnel, there’s no dispute on that, there was no role for the complainant to fulfil, so it was necessary to terminate the employment.”

Only ministers sitting at Cabinet received garda drivers under the new security arrangements, the WRC heard.

That meant civilian drivers stayed on the Department of Agriculture rota to serve Minister of State Martin Heydon, who does not sit at Cabinet.

Mr McConalogue and the “super-junior” Minister of State Pippa Hackett got new garda drivers from December 2022 onward, the WRC heard.

‘Absolutely horrible time’ – Complainant

Their old drivers, including Mr Shaw, were offered either a severance package incorporating their statutory entitlements and an undisclosed ex-gratia payment, or a transfer to a temporary clerical officer post at the Department of Social Protection, retaining their terms and conditions.

Giving evidence, Mr Shaw said: “When the two financial ministers lost their civilian drivers, in January [2022], all the rest of the drivers, every Tuesday when Cabinet was on, the talk would be going round about what was happening.

“We tried to get answers but couldn’t. Drivers tried to get answers from their individual ministers.

“Some guards had moved in. We’d been told: ‘Lads, the writing’s on the wall, you’ll all be gone by summer’.

“It was an absolutely horrible time for us, we didn’t know whether we were coming or going.”

He said he only got official notice in November 2022.

Mr Shaw said there were no firm details given to him on the proposed transfer to the Department of Social Protection, any prospect of office work was “absolutely” unsuitable for him.

He added that his previous work as a garda also caused him concern about the prospect of working in a local Department of Social Protection office.

‘No provision’ for voluntary redundancy package

Adjudicator Breiffni O’Neill said he had the power to order Mr Shaw’s reinstatement, but the complainant said he had “been put through enough” and was unwilling to go back to the Department of Agriculture.

Questioning the Department of Agriculture’s sole witness, assistant principal Ray Corbett of its human resources section, Mr O’Neill said it would be normal in a “genuine redundancy consultation process” to offer voluntary redundancy terms to protect workers who “want to save their jobs” and allow those more prepared to move on to do so.

“There was no provision for a voluntary redundancy package in the Government decision,” Mr Corbett said.

“That suggests to me, Mr Corbett, that there was absolutely no regard for their rights under employment law,” the adjudicator said.

“I don’t accept that; they had fixed-term employment contracts coterminous with the Government ministers,” the witness said.

Asked by the adjudicator whether there had been an appeal offered to the decision to terminate the contract, Mr Corbett said there had been none.

“That flies in the face of natural justice,” Mr O’Neill said.

Mr O’Neill is expected to give his decision in writing to the parties in a number of weeks.

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