Former ministers’ driver loses employment case at Labour Court
Posted on 18th April 2019 at 21:48
Court finds fixed-term contract was ‘legitimate and proportionate’
A Government ministerial driver who served in his post for six years has failed in his claim that a Government department breached workplace legislation concerning his role.
Paul Kiernan – who worked as a driver for former minister for health, James Reilly for five years – was serving under Minster for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty when his work ended as a ministerial driver in November 2017.
Last year, Mr Kieran failed in an unfair dismissal action against the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). He had claimed he had been unfairly dismissed without fair procedures and natural justice as would have been afforded a civil servant covered by the Civil Service code.
He had also said he suffered less favourable treatment than a fixed-term employee and he made a a separate contract claim.
Mr Kiernan appealed that ruling to the Labour Court claiming that the department had breached the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act, 1993 in that it had failed to afford him a contract of indefinite duration.
In the case, the driver served for former minister James Reilly between 2011 and July 2016 in two ministries. After Dr Reilly lost his Dáil seat and later his Dáil seat, the driver was issued with a third fixed-term contract working as civilian driver for Minister Regina Doherty, first in her role as Government chief whip and then later as Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
Contract of indefinite duration
Mr Kiernan claimed that by operation of employment law, his contract became a contract of indefinite duration from May 6th, 2015.
However, the Department of Employment Affairs stated that “the nature of the relationship between a Minister and his or her driver is one of special trust and discretion reflective of the fact that Minister conducts political and Government business while travelling in his or her car”.
It said that “very particular and personalised relationship is reflected in the uncontested fact that it is the Minister who identifies to the Department the individual which the Minister wishes to have appointed as his or her civilian driver for the duration of his or her term of office”.
In its findings, the Labour Court said it was “persuaded that the inherent characteristics of the role of civilian driver to a Minister involves a particular relationship such that the Minister is capable, by virtue of the level of trust placed in the driver, of carrying out Government and political business during what both parties acknowledge are extended period of working time spent in the Minister’s car with the driver”.
The court found that “each contract provided to the Appellant specified that the contract was directly related to and would end upon the conclusion of the named Minister’s term of office”.
Dismissing Mr Kiernan’s claim, the Labour Court said the issuance of a fixed term contract to a civilian driver chosen by the individual Minister “is a legitimate and proportionate means of achieving the aim of facilitating the conduct of Government and political business by a Minister”.
It was “not persuaded that any alternative of a less discriminatory nature is available”.
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