Senior UCC officer seeks lifting of freeze on pay

A SENIOR officer of University College Cork is seeking the restoration of payment of additional allowances which the college has not been sanctioned to pay him.

Diarmuid Collins was appointed as UCC’s bursar/chief financial officer in 2005 and was told he would be paid just over €144,000, equivalent to 120% of a professor’s salary. This was in accordance with the university’s pay arrangements at the time, an Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) heard yesterday.

But correspondence in 2006 from the Higher Education Authority and theDepartment of Education made clear to UCC management that staff could only be paid at rates approved by the Minister for Education and Minister for Finance. A freeze was then put on increases due under national wage agreements to the pay of Mr Collins and a number of other senior officers of UCC.

Mark Connaughton, senior counsel for UCC, said this was in order to restore their pay as near as possible to the appropriate levels, as recommended by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector. He said the pay rate in Mr Collins’s 2005 contract did not have the proper sanction required under the 1997 Universities Act and was therefore offered without proper power, although UCC is not seeking to set aside the contract or his appointment.

The EAT was hearing an appeal by UCC against last November’s determination by a Rights Commissioner in favour of Mr Collins’s claim that he was still contractually entitled to be paid 120% of the professorial rate. A list of the highest-paid people in Irish education published last week showed he earns almost €152,000.

“At the time he took up the appointment, he had been working in the HSE at a very high level, and at a higher pay scale, and for various quality-of-life reasons he chose to take the position at UCC,” said Mr Collins’s barrister, Ray Boland.

He said that while Mr Collins benefited from further increases in the professors’ pay scale, he is the only one of around 30 senior UCC officers who did not benefit from subsequent sanction for additional pay.

His case to the Rights Commissioner included a claim for non-payment of a 3% increase in December 2006 and a 2% increase in July 2007. In a submission to the Rights Commissioner last year, Mr Collins wrote that it was only in March 2009 that he was advised he would not be paid in accordance with his contract. “Mr Connaughton is saying that, at the time UCC made this [salary] offer to him, it had no power to do so and the cost of this mistake by UCC should be borne by Mr Collins,” Mr Boland said.

He said it was a unilateral change to his client’s terms and conditions without his consent, which was why he made his claim under the Payment of Wages Act. However, Mr Connaughton argued that because the contract was issued ultra vires, or without proper power, it was incorrect to seek redress under this legislation and Mr Collins was effectively asking the tribunal to perform an exercise of judicial review.

Elva Kearney BL, chair of the three-member tribunal, asked both sides to make written submissions by December 20. She said they would be notified early next year either of a determination or if a further hearing would be needed.


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