A WELL known Kildare contract cleaning company has been fined for under-paying 13 of its employees.
Barty O’Brien Ltd, with an address listed as No. 1, McElwain Terrace, Brownstown, Curragh was charged with one count of production of a false and misleading document and with 13 counts, dating from October 26, 2008 to November 1, 2011 with underpayment.
The company pleaded guilty and was represented by David Powderly at Kilcock Court last Friday morning, November 9.
The national minimum rate is E8.65. The company was charged with paying employees E7 an hour.
There was some initial legal argument between the prosecution and defence. The charges against the company specified a certain and limited time period when the wrong amount was paid to each of the 13 victims.
This amounted to a reasonably small sum of money - E2,229.84 owed to all 13 employees, in amounts of a couple of hundred each..
However, when taking into consideration that the employees had been with the company for three years, Geraldine Gileece, who was prosecuting on behalf of the State, argued that the true figure was E 48,459.59, up to E7,000 each. She argued that the law allowed the judge to order that the company pay that amount to the women.
David Powderly, defending, argued that the law did not allow for this. The judge ruled in Mr. Powderly’s favour, but noted that the employees were perfectly free to pursue the company for the outstanding money throught the civil courts.
Liz Almond, an investigator from the National Employment Rights gave evidence of being contacted by the employees and of investigating the matter.
The women had kept diaries of the hours they had worked and their payslips.
She contacted the company, and Mr. Martin O’Brien, of Barty O’Brien Ltd, gave her further documentation relating to the women. There was a discrepancy between the two sets of information.
Mr. Powederly said that his client had instructed him that while there was some shortfall in the amount they were paid, his main difficulty was that he couldn’t provide full records.
He noted that the HSE and other clients of the cleaning company had needed people at short notice and that this was where his records became confused.
He also noted that the investigators had not verified the accounts from the women with records from the HSE.
The court also heard that the payroll function at the company had been outsourced.
The company had been set up in 1960, he explained, and Martin O’Brien, his client, had taken it over in 1980.
At its height it would have had more than 40 people working for it.
Mr. O’Brien had been completely co-operative, he said.
Because some of the employees had travelled from abroad to attend the court sitting, witness of expences of €2,865.85 had been incurred.
Judge Desmond Zaidan awarded this to the women, charged the company E1,000 on each of the offences and ordered that the E2,229.84 owed, as specified under the charges be re-payed to the women.
Mr. Powderly updated the court that the company had lost its contracts and was due to cease trading at the end of the month.
“He’s not a man who deliberatly flouted employment law,” he told the court, “and he wouldn’t like the word to go out that deliberately under paid his employees.”
On behalf of his client, he apologised to the people involved.
“Things are bleak for him at the moment. He’s had health difficulties and this has been hard on his family. He doesn’t leave here a man of many means.”