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Vikings’ producer appeals €430k workplace rights awards

The film company that produced historical epic “The Last Duel” and drama series “Vikings” has served notice of appeal on most of a group of blacklisted former set workers who were awarded a combined €430,000 in back pay and compensation by the Workplace Relations Commission.

Metropolitan Films International Ltd, the company founded by the celebrated producer James Flynn, who died last year, was hit by rulings of multiple employment rights breaches against 23 members of the Irish Film Workers’ Association (IFWA) just before Christmas.

The trade union, which represented the workers at hearings before the WRC between late 2022 and July 2023, confirmed it had received notice of appeal from the Labour Court in respect of 23 workers by Thursday.

No grounds of appeal have yet been set out – the Labour Court form notices served on the workers making no such requirement of the appellant company at this early stage.

IFWA had said to the WRC that its campaigning against “systematic blacklisting” in the Irish film industry led to the men losing jobs they had held for decades in companies controlled by Morgan O’Sullivan and the late James Flynn.

The workers registered complaints against two entities, World 2000 Entertainment Ltd and Metropolitan Film Productions Ltd, stating that they were employed by the companies, of which the two producers were the “principal directors”.

Representatives of the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC) who appeared for the producers at hearings in 2022 and 2023 denied the workers were ever direct employees of the firms – submitting that they had instead been hired in from film to film by designated activity companies.

Many of the workers been entitled to assert their entitlement to a contract of indefinite duration, and a number of them were penalised with dismissal for doing so, the WRC concluded.

In 13 of the cases now under appeal, adjudication officer Catherine Byrne ordered Metropolitan Films International Ltd to pay workers €5,000 in compensation for the failure to provide a written statement setting out the reasons for employing them on a specified purpose contract in breach of the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act, 2003.

Ten of those workers have also been awarded €25,000 for penalisation by way of dismissal for attempting to assert their entitlement to a fixed-term contract.

A sum of four weeks’ pay was also awarded in most cases for a breach of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994. The highest compensation sums was secured by plasterer Fran Matthews, and his father Frank Matthews, a master plasterer, who both received WRC decisions awarding them in excess of €38,000 each.

In response to the workers’ terms of employment claims, the company’s representatives had produced contracts in each case which they said had been issued to the complainants by various DACs.

However, 16 of the men gave sworn evidence that the signature on the contract was not their own – evidence accepted by Ms Byrne, who said the contract situation with the DACs in these cases was “a contrivance and is false”.

Reacting to the company’s appeal notices, IFWA organiser Liz Murray said: “Metropolitan is legally entitled to appeal, but are they morally entitled to, when in my opinion they didn’t come to the law with clean hands in the first instance?”

In a statement, Metropolitan Films International Ltd stated: “It is not our practice to comment on matters that are currently the subject of legal proceedings.”

Five of the workers involved in the dispute had earlier claims dismissed in the spring of 2022, when Ms Byrne ruled the union had missed the six-month statutory deadline to refer a workplace rights complaint, finding that they should have known sooner they were not being brought back to work.

Their later appeals were turned down by the Labour Court. However, new evidence about the timeline of events emerged at hearing last year when more cases in the series were called on in 2023.

This was on the basis that the workers had either named the wrong company in their complaints, or that there was no evidence before the court of a contract of employment.

The same WRC adjudicator who heard the earlier complaints, Ms Byrne, wrote that she had made an “assumption that work was available” for the stagehands early in 2019.

When she dismissed some complaints against Metropolitan Film Productions Ltd in spring 2023, she had said the issue of IFWA-affiliated stagehands had been “clearly on the union’s agenda” and it should have referred complaints sooner.

“I accept now that this was not the case because at the hearing of the complaints under consideration here, the uncontradicted evidence was that the respondent produced no films in 2019 until The Last Duel went into production in November that year,” Ms Byrne wrote.

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