The Labour Court has awarded €10,000 compensation to a Polish baker who worked between 70 and 98 hours a week in a Limerick bakery.

The employee alleged that, at the time he was recruited in Poland, he was informed that he would work 30 hours a week for an agreed amount. However, he worked between 70 and 98 hours, with no additional payment for any overtime. He claimed that he was subsequently instructed by his employer to complete false time sheets for the purposes of a NERA inspection and was threatened with losing his job and deportation if he did not do so.

The employee maintained a diary recording his correct start and finish times, which was put into evidence. The employer relied on pay slips which did not match the hours recorded in the employee’s diary. The employer also claimed that the employee had remained on the premises for additional hours in order to avail of transport home. Whilst admitting that the start and finish times recorded for the NERA inspection were incorrect, the employer contended that the actual working time was accurate and in compliance with legislation.

The parties’ versions of events were in direct contradiction with each other. In reaching its decision, the Labour Court found that the evidence adduced by the employer was unreliable, while the evidence put forward by the employee was honest to the best of his recollection. Accordingly, the Labour Court found in favour of the employee.

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 states that an employee’s maximum average working week should not exceed 48 hours. While this does not mean an employee can never work more than 48 hours in any seven-day period, the average (in most cases to be calculated over a four month period) may not exceed this amount.

This case is a stark reminder to employers of the substantial compensation that can be awarded and the serious view the Labour Court takes of abuse of the legislation, particularly in relation to vulnerable employees, in ensuring employees do not work beyond the average number of hours per week permitted under the Act.