The prospect of a new NCHD contract has been cast into doubt due to an overworked Labour Court swamped with industrial disputes.
The Labour Court missed last Friday’s deadline (November 20) for completion of talks in the ongoing NCHD contract negotiations between the HSE and the IMO.
Under the terms of the High Court agreement signed by the Executive and the IMO back in April — which settled the action taken by six NCHDs and the union over planned reductions in overtime and allowance — talks at the Labour Relations Commission on a new contract were to be concluded on or before October 16.
Provision for subsequent binding arbitration by the Labour Court was also included in the settlement, but this adjudication was to have finished by November 20, after which a ballot of doctors was to have been held by December 11.
It is understood the Labour Court has given a provisional date of mid-December for the hearing — a date after the December 11 deadline for balloting doctors.
IMO Director of Industrial Relations Finbarr Murphy told Irish Medical Times that the union was investigating the legal implications of these missed deadlines.
“We don’t know as yet when the Labour Court will issue their recommendation. Whether it would be this side of Christmas or New Year, we just don’t know,” Murphy told IMT.
Realistically, even if the Court did manage to issue its ruling before Christmas, it seems highly unlikely that the IMO would initiate a ballot over the holiday period.
According to the settlement agreement, in the event that its members reject the deal by ballot, the IMO has agreed that the HSE will be free to offer ‘modified terms and conditions as they see fit’ in any NCHD contract taking effect on or after January 1, 2010.
Meanwhile, a trial date has been set for early next year in the ongoing legal dispute between the IMO and the HSE over the implementation of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD).
The hearing will take place on Jan 21, 2010, with the trial expected to last up to two weeks.
The IMO is seeking aggravated damages from the HSE for alleged breach of Labour Court recommendations.
The EWTD sets out a maximum 48-hour working week for NCHDs. The HSE has said that any failure to fully implement the directive is due to several factors, including IMO opposition to measures the HSE has proposed.
The IMO requested that Ms Justice Laffoy hear the case due to her familiarity with the issues. The case has appeared before her several times in recent weeks.