New entrant age equality claim threatens restructuring practices

Peninsula Team

November 25 2011

On the 2ndDecember 2010 the government announced that they were to implement a reduction of 10% in relation to the salary scale and fixed allowances for new entrants in the Public Sector from the 1stJanuary 2011.  This was to directly affect standard entry grades in the public service such as gardai, teachers, lecturers, nurses, doctors, fire officers and social workers.   This unfairness is being challenged by the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) at the moment as they believe that this has potential for an age discrimination case to be perused in the Equality Tribunal as most of those who will be affected by this will be young workers and thus the pay reduction is discriminatory against workers based on their young age.

The INTO have argued that the pay for teachers getting their first job in 2011 is 14% lower than those who started in previous years after salary reductions across the public sector.  The INTO has claimed that this amounts to discrimination on age grounds and although this will be difficult for the INTO to prove they have stated that “there is reasonable prospect of mounting a successful challenge”.  The INTO has stated that they are preparing to take a case to the Equality Tribunal on the grounds that the vast majority of people likely to be affected by the move are younger public servants.

However, the Equality Tribunal has stated that “it is not discriminatory to pay new entrants less than established workers” and have stated that they would not take a case based on those grounds.

The INTO has publically recognised that there is a large number of cases pending in the Equality Tribunal which would delay any case from being heard in the immediate future and are inviting any of its members on the lower pay scale to come forward and be named in a challenge to the new lower entry rates, under the Equality Act.  This is in an attempt to ensure that they do not fall foul of the rules about submitting within a certain timeframe.  This time frame is 6 months from the alleged discrimination and can be extended to 12 months in exceptional circumstances.

The INTO have publically announced that they have sought legal advice to back their claim up however, they have yet to confirm what this legal advice is.  There is speculation that the basis of the INTO’s claim is that of indirect discrimination.  This would be in relation to the fact that although new entrants can theoretically be of any age, the very nature of new entrants as a group dictates that they are much more likely to be younger people.  Claims of indirect discrimination can be allowed if the employer involved can show that there is an objectively justifiable reason for the difference in treatment.

Along with the INTO the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) has also expressed that they are considering taking similar action.  The TUI has stated “we remain gravely concerned by a situation that allows two teachers or lectures doing the same work but to be paid from different pay scales”.  There are fears amongst many employees and representatives that this unfairness in relation to pay could result in huge industrial relations problems in the future.

It seems that the pay reduction for new entrants in the Public Sector is going to be challenged in the coming months.  It will then be for a Tribunal to decide what an appropriate determination would be based on the facts and evidence provided by each party at the Tribunal Hearing.  It is fair to say that no matter what the determination of the Tribunal will be, there is a high possibility that this determination will be challenged in the higher courts.

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