Voice employee wins dismissal case

A woman who was made redundant by The Athlone Voice last year was awarded €15,000 by the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT ) at its most recent sitting in Athlone after it heard how the person who made the selections no longer worked for the company and wasn’t available to give evidence.

The tribunal was told how Philomena Guinan, Meehan Quarter, Coosan, was one of 11 production staff - who design the paper - informed by the firm’s production manager on January 23, 2009 that, as a result of the recession, it was necessary to reduce the number of production designer positions by 65.5 hours per week. He sought volunteers and gave the designers just four days to decide on this. However, when there were no volunteers, The Voice invoked a process of four criteria as set out in the letter of January 23, against which the designers were to be judged.

It was against the fairness of this selection process, as well as challenging the existence of a redundancy situation, that Ms Guinan brought her claim to the EAT, and she was represented by a solicitor and barrister. Alpha Group, parent company of The Voice, was represented by a personnel consultant, Alan Ferguson of Personnel and Training Services, Ballymena, Co Antrim, who had to satisfy the tribunal at the start that with 20 years experience in this field and having professional indemnity insurance he could represent his client.

However, when Mr Ferguson wished to use the evidence of the firm’s general manager rather than the production manager who rated the designers against the redundancy criteria, and then sought an adjournment of proceedings on account of his unfamiliarity with the Tribunal’s procedures and the fact that the production manager was no longer in the Alpha Group’s employ, this was refused as he had earlier assured the Tribunal as to his experience in such matters. Though the production manager had left Alpha in July 2009, when the company moved all its production operations to Northern Ireland with the loss of a further 11 jobs, the firm had been told his evidence would be required when it was notified of the hearing.

Ms Guinan’s representative then made an application to the Tribunal on the basis that the Alpha Group’s case was flawed as no fair selection procedure had been shown and the Tribunal was unanimous in granting this.

“It was clear that the respondent had failed to show that the claimant had been fairly selected for redundancy...and it must follow that the claimant was unfairly dismissed”.

Accordingly, the Tribunal awarded €15,000 under the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977 to 2007 but refused to order Alpha to issue a reference for Ms Guinan as sought by her, as it did not have the powers to do so.

The Voice has traded in Athlone since arriving in September 2003 and is part of a stable of 23 titles north and south, and has been under the stewardship of Lord Kilcroney, the former Ulster Unionist MP, John Taylor, since 2005.

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