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A fruit and veg processing and packaging business paid only a 5 cent per hour Sunday allowance to a minimum wage worker who was required to regularly work 15-hour days.

What did the employees’ excessive working hours entail?

The employees’ lawyer told the Workplace Relations Commission hearing that the employee started work at 3am or 4am and was required to work “until finish” meaning that she regularly worked 13, 14 or 15 hours a day. In evidence, the employee said that a busy week could be her working an average of 67 hours and the longest she ever worked was 75 hours per week.

What does Irish law say about working hours?

Under Irish legislation, the maximum number of hours you can work in an average working week is 48 hours. A working week can be more than 48 hours, it is the average that is important. For example, an average reference period to calculate working hours for employees is 4 months.

What is a Sunday Premium Pay?

If an employee works on Sundays, they are entitled to a benefit, such as extra pay. This is usually set out in the contract of employment.

If an employee and their employer have not made an agreement about extra pay, then your employer must give you one (or more) of the following:

  • A reasonable allowance
  • A reasonable pay increase
  • Reasonable paid time off work

A reasonable pay increase for Sunday pay is considered to be at least 25% but is dependent on the employee/industry.  Since the employee at the Fruit and Veg Company was only paid an additional payment of 5c per hour for working on Sundays, this would be considered a highly unreasonable pay premium from the employer.

Why was the employee awarded €15,000 from the WRC?

The €15,000 award was broken down into three separate payments from the WRC Adjudicator. The Adjudicator ordered the company to pay the employee €10,000 over its failure to prevent her from working in excess of 48 hours a week as it was ‘most disturbing’ that the employee persistently asked not to be rostered for such long hours.

In response to the Company’s failure to pay a reasonable Sunday allowance, the Adjudicator directed the company to pay the employee €2,000. The payroll manager with the firm told the hearing that to compensate for working on Sundays, employees receive an additional 5 cents per hour. Under cross-examination during the hearing, the payroll manager described the Sunday premium of 5 cents per hour as “not as fair as it could be.”

During the employee’s employment, who worked for the company from 2013 to March 2020, she had family responsibilities and was suffering from a hernia. Her excessive working hours took its toll on her physical and mental health. The Adjudicator stated that no evidence was given of any action taken by the employer to ensure that the health of employees was not put at risk due to long hours. The Adjudicator ordered the company to pay the employee €3,000 after finding that she was penalised “when she was intimidated into continuing to work excessively long hours”.