Mushroom picker ‘kept in the dark’ as employer falsified working time records awarded €15,000 extra for breaching minimum wage law

The owner of a mushroom farm is to pay a worker €15,000 for failing to pay her minimum wage for an 80-hour week – while concealing falsified details of her working hours when she signed them.

The arbitrator who investigated her complaint called it “the most heinous violation of her employment rights.”

Ana Lacramioara Manciu has brought a claim under the National Minimum Wage Act against mushroom grower Co Tipperary Stablefield Limited, alleging she earned just €2,093 a month for an 85-hour working week.

The company is owned by Thomas and Eleanor Sweeney of Killeatin, Clogheen, Co Tipperary.

The Commission was told Ms Manciu earned between €4.06 and €6.17 an hour while working for the company between 2012 and 2016.

In evidence, she said she came to Ireland in 2012 from Romania for work and found employment as a picker on the farm.

She said she was surprised to continue working until 10 p.m. – but other staff told her it didn’t matter how long she worked, but rather the focus was on the weight of the mushrooms picked – staff being paid 30 to 33 cents for each kilo.

She was promoted several times and eventually rose to the post of harvest supervisor, she said, with her salary rising from €1,600 gross to €2,093.

That meant starting as early as 6 a.m. to meet the pickers on site, with the working day not ending until 9:30 p.m., she said, often with just one day off a week or none at all.

She said part of her job was to call employees into an office, where they were asked to sign a payslip and a second page which initially appeared blank – but which she later discovered contained a details of hours worked per week.

His testimony was that[traduction]”the respondent held his hand over the page on the desk, so that the employee was unable to see or review the working hours”.

She said she looked at her husband’s documentation, which indicated that where he picked 1,000kg of mushrooms, this would be divided by 30 cents – indicating a fake hourly wage of €9.

“Working hours were regularly, if not daily, changed by [Thomas] Sweeney,” Ms Manciu said, adding that she could see him making changes in real time when he logged into his computer using remote access software.

Ms Manciu submitted screenshots of the clocking in system on several dates, including February 5, 2015, when she checked in at 6.05am and left at 9.56pm – a 15 hour, 12 minute working day , with 70 minutes deducted for breaks.

She said she was asked to sign a payroll analysis sheet for that month, as usual, without seeing what it said.

Later, she discovered that it indicated that she had only worked 6.58 hours on February 5, 2015, she told the commission.

She gave three similar examples of the clocking system recording hours far beyond what the other sheet showed in 2015 and 2016.

The company presented no evidence in defense and only made legal arguments opposing the case being heard.

In October 2019, Ms Manciu was awarded €21,000 after the Labor Court overturned an earlier decision by the Workplace Relations Commission regarding paid vacation and annual leave claims made under the Employment Act. organization of working time.

Stablefield initially argued that the claim under the National Minimum Wage Act should be dismissed as it had already been dealt with through an inspection, which ruled against the company and led to a “Compliance Notice, Notice of Fixed Fine and Criminal Hearing”.

Rachel O’Flynn BL, for the company, said the inspector investigated all aspects of the case, including underpayment of wages in a “wide-ranging report”.

“Whether it’s correct or not,” she said, the Commission made a decision in the case in 2017.

She argued that Ms Manciu had appealed five of her original complaints, but not this one.

Sharon Dillion-Lyons BL, representing Ms Manciu, argued there was no evidence the investigation or prosecution related to underpayment.

She said her client initially requested a ruling on her compensation claim and the only request for inspection was that she had not received a statement of her hourly rate of pay – matters covered in different sections. national minimum wage law.

Ms Dillon-Lyons said that although the previous arbitrator in the case referred to a claim under section 24 of the National Minimum Wage Act, that claim was not properly submitted to the commission because no statement of Ms. Manciu’s hourly rate of pay was requested.

She argued that her client requested a statement of his hourly rate of pay in his original complaint in 2016, but that it was not returned within the required four weeks.

Adjudication officer Úna Glazier-Farmer agreed that she had jurisdiction to hear the case.

She said Ms Manciu had been “intentionally kept in the dark about how much she earned per hour or even that she was entitled to minimum wage for [a] demanding work of 80 hours per week”.

The Complainant presented her testimony with “exceptional detail and clarity” and said it was accepted in full.

“The falsification of hours of work with the clear intent to deceive the complainant and underpay her significantly less than the national minimum wage is the most heinous violation of her employment rights,” Ms. Glazier said. farmer. “The defendant sought to take advantage of the plaintiff, who by her own admission was unaware of her employment rights when she arrived in this country.”