Wage claims by doctor against prison service rejected by WRC

A doctor who made over 150 statutory wage claims against the Irish Prison Service has had all of them rejected by the Workplace Relations Commission.

Dr Mohsin Moola had claimed the governor of Cloverhill Prison was “desperate” to find a new doctor and offered him double the usual on-call rate when he was hired in January 2007 – before “unilaterally” reducing it.

He alleged 154 breaches of the Payment of Wages Act in nine separate complaint forms submitted to the commission between 2016 and 2020.

But in rulings published this morning, the WRC found “no evidence whatsoever” for the claimed deal – and ruled Dr Moola was overpaid €15,000 in the three years before a payroll error was corrected in 2010.

Dr Moola had started work at the prison in 2006 as a locum GP before returning to South Africa when a new doctor was hired, he said in evidence to an adjudication hearing on November 4th last year.

He said he got a phone call from then-governor of Cloverhill Prison Liam Dowling after Christmas 2006 offering him a permanent job.

Dr Moola said he was aware of “longstanding issues between prison doctors and the Irish Prison Service”, specifically regarding pay and allowances, and he told he Governor Dowling he wasn’t interested in the job.

He said the governor came back to him and they negotiated a deal in which he would be offered backdated pay if the salary for prison doctors was increased in the future.

Dr Moola said Governor Dowling also agreed to on an increase in the on-call rate.

“We negotiated double,” he said.

But Dr Moola said he doubted the prison would stand over the offer.

“The prison was desperate,” he said, adding: “They were afraid to give me a contract.”

Irish Medical Organisation official Thomas Smyth, who represented Dr Moola, argued that his client had been given an “verbal employment contract” which combined elements of a “template” contract from 2004 with “individualised” terms.

Verbal deal

He submitted that part of this verbal deal included Dr Moola being paid the fortnightly on-call allowance of €199.39 on a weekly basis.

Mr Smyth said his client had separately agreed to supply emergency and weekend attendance at the hourly rate for locum doctors – and argued the on-call allowance was “directly associated” with this arrangement, which continued until 2011.

He said the Prison Service has been “attempting to move the complainant to the 2004 template contract, which was not issued to him at the commencement of his employment”.

He said his client had lost €23,137 from the “unilateral” reduction to the allowance on-call between 2016 and 2020 and urged the adjudicating officer to order the Prison Service to reinstate it and pay his client the difference.

Former Cloverhill governor, Liam Dowling, said in evidence that he was not in a position to offer Dr Moola “any concessions or inducements” to return to work at the prison.

“All I could offer him was the option to apply for the job,” he said, adding that Dr Moola’s working conditions would have “improved 100 per cent” as a permanent employee.

He said most of their discussions over five or six phone calls concerned a work permit, which he arranged, and that the question of the on-call allowance “never arose”.

Under cross-examination from Mr Smyth, Governor Dowling denied he ever agreed to a double payment of the on-call allowance.

The commission also heard from an official in the Prison Service’s HR directorate, Tom Doyle.

He said the worker who set up Dr Moola on its payroll had assumed he would be paid fortnightly like other staff instead of weekly but miscalculated the periodic payment of the on-call allowance.

The double payment went on from January 2007 until it was discovered in July 2010, Mr Doyle said.

“There is no instruction anywhere to pay [Dr Moola] a weekly allowance of €199.39,” he said.

Double payment

He said he believes the explanation given by the payroll section is the “only explanation” for the double payment, calling it “a simple administrative error” by the payroll service.

Pay cuts were applied in December 2010, he said, reducing the salary for a prison doctor from €119,646 to €110,181 a year – and also cutting the on-call allowance from €99.69 to €94.71.

He said that because of a delay to implementing the cuts, the Prison Service ended up recouping an overpayment from Dr Moola later – but that it had not attempted to claw back the double on-call allowance.

He said that error only “came to the attention” of the prison service in March 2021 and that nobody went to look for the money.

Glen Gibbons BL, who appeared for the Prison Service, argued Dr Moola should have lodged a complaint in 2010, when the cut to the on-call allowance was made, and did not raise the matter at hearings of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in 2016 and 2017.

“It is grossly unfair on the IPS to have a full hearing of this complaint when the complainant could have articulated the matter sooner,” Mr Gibbons said.

He urged the commission to dismiss the complaints.

“It is possible that, if the Fempi cuts had not been introduced, the double allowance error may have gone unnoticed for a long time,” wrote adjudicating officer Catherine Byrne in a ruling published this morning.

“In 2010, when the allowance was reduced to the correct amount, it seems that the complainant was the only person aware of the scale of the over-payment,” she added.

She ruled Dr Moola was paid an on-call allowance of €199.39 a week for three years from January 2007 to January 2010, when he ought to have been receiving just €99.69.

Ms Byrne found the doctor had been overpaid by €15,000.

“I am satisfied therefore that there has been no illegal deduction from the complainant’s wages and that since January 1st 2010 he [has been] paid the correct weekly allowance,” she added.

In 10 parallel decisions issued this morning on the same facts, Ms Byrne dismissed 154 payment of wages complaints by Dr Moola against the Prison Service lodged on dates between December 2016 and August 2020.

If you would like an assessment of a claim, you can use the online form available here without obligation or alternatively you can use the automatic claim calculator.

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