THE LOGISTICS ARM of fruit provider Keelings has been accused of cracking down on absenteeism in a ‘blanket fashion’ – even when workers were out with heart problems and broken bones.
However the firm denies misusing the ‘attendance control programme’, and insists that it gives due weight to the reasons for employees’ absences.
The Labour Court recently ruled that a facilitator should be appointed to settle a long-running dispute over the scheme in operation at Keelings Logistics Solutions’ Ballymun site. The 230 workers were represented by trade union Siptu.
Keelings Logistics Solutions is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Keelings group.
The programme includes a series of triggers that prompt the monitoring of employees’ attendance for certain periods. If a worker is absent for an unacceptable length of time, they could be on the receiving end of disciplinary action.
Keelings told the court that the current scheme for controlling absence levels at the north side facility was insufficient because it has never achieved its 3% target. Instead, average absenteeism levels double that figure.
It said that, since 2013, four employees have been dismissed, while two others were excluded from the sick pay scheme for 12 months because of their poor attendance levels.
In its argument, Siptu said the company was not operating the ‘attendance control programme’ fairly.
It submitted to the court cases of employees with heart problems, broken bones and other medically certified absences not being properly considered by Keelings.
Siptu said that many of those cases were judged too harshly and that the company demonstrated a high level of inflexibility.
In a statement to Fora, Keelings Logistics Solutions denied claims of applying the rules in a ‘blanket fashion’ – adding that it was “committed to fulfilling its legal obligations relating to employment, health and safety, equality and welfare”.
Keelings said the current programme is “not capable of addressing high absenteeism levels and looks forward to adhering to the recommendation of the Labour Court”.
The Siptu organiser representing members at Keelings Logistics Solutions, Kieron Connolly, said the workers have accepted the facilitation process – although it was resisting moves to tighten up the programme.
“There are times when we feel the company should be operating it in a more favourable way,” he told Fora.
Connolly said he accepted there was a high absenteeism rate at the Ballymun site but added that the rate had been reduced.
Clarification: This article has been edited to clarify the relationship between Keelings Logistics Solutions and the wider Keelings group.