The Labour Court has ordered Longford County Council to re-instate a 68-year-old lorry driver and allow him to work for the Council until he turns 70.
This follows the Labour Court finding that the local authority unfairly dismissed Michael Neilon when it ‘retired’ the long-serving employee on his reaching his 66th birthday in May 2017.
In the Labour Court ruling, deputy chairman, Caroline Jenkinson said that the council has not been able to establish that a normal retirement age existed within the local authority which Mr Neilon was aware or ought to have been aware of.
The Council claimed that Mr Neilon retired in accordance with the council's local and nationally agreed retirement age policy at the age of 66.
However, Ms Jenkinson stated that in the absence of a clear retirement policy applicable to Mr Neilon, it was not unreasonable for him to have an expectation that he would continue in employment beyond his 66th birthday.
Ms Jenkinson said that it is significant in the case that the court was not furnished by the Council with a contract of employment specifying Mr Neilon’s mandatory retirement age nor has it been supplied with a collective agreement to substantiate the Council’s position that 66 is the normal retirement age for staff in Mr Neilon's work category.
On behalf of Mr Neilon, William Martin-Smith BL told the hearing that Mr Neilon’s preferred form of redress would be reinstatement to his former job and that he be permitted to continue in that role up to the age of 70.
Mr Neilon turned 68 in May and will now be allowed to work until his 70th birthday in May 2021.
Mr Neilon commenced working for the Council 39 years ago in 1980 after an earlier four-year spell for the Council in the 1960s.
Mr Martin Smith told the Labour Court that the custom and practice for outdoor road workers was to retire at 72 years of age and provided named colleagues as examples.
Mr Martin Smith said that Mr Neilon had a legitimate expectation that he too would be entitled to work until 72 years of age.
He said Mr Neilon was given a verbal assurance from a senior Council finance official in 2006 at a group meeting that Mr Neilon and all colleagues present, could remain in employment up to age 70.
Mr Neilon told the hearing that it was traditional for all outdoor employees to work until at least 70 years of age as long as they were fit.
Mr Neilon told the court that he had intended to stay until the age of 70 if he had good health.
In her ruling, Ms Jenkinson stated that the court notes that since his dismissal Mr Neilon has been available for work and had made serious efforts to secure employment.
Mr Neilon told the court that he applied for a number of jobs after his retirement.
He has a bus driver’s licence and got a few runs with a coach company in 2017; worked at a bakery and got three runs as a lorry driver with a scaffolding company.
Mr Neilon said that he was offered a job with a garage in Mullingar driving car transporter lorries but the offer was withdrawn when the garage could not get him insurance at commercial rates because of his age.
The Council told the Labour Court that Mr Neilon retired in accordance with the normal and agreed retirement age for employees of the Council and the dismissal by way of retirement was not unfair.
The Council acknowledged the fact that, during the period from 1998 to 2006, a small number of employees - nine - remained in employment after the accepted and recognised retirement age for outdoor employees.
The Council stated that through the re-establishment of a retirement policy in the Council in 2006, and with the agreement of employee unions, a retirement policy has been strictly adhered to.
The Council said that from 2009 to 2018 a total of 85 employees had retired from the Council. Of these employees, all 85 of them retired at 66 years or below and none were permitted to remain on past 66 years of age - bar one case.