Allegations that burgers were picked up from the floor at a meat plant were not a “matter of national security,” WRC said

“It wouldn’t be a question of national security if someone found out that burgers were falling on the floor,” the lawyer said yesterday.

The company has called the claims false and defamatory because they were intended to harm the company – and they have already been denied in a deposition by a former health and safety manager who testified last year.

But despite the court telling the parties to the case last week that it was dismissing the remainder of a complaint under the Employment Equality Act 1998 by former employee Abdulah Al Jaber against Dawn Meats Ltd. will be heard privately, the court admitted to the press yesterday.

Sitting at Waterford Courthouse, Judge Gaye Cunningham said there had been “very late correspondence” between the WRC and the parties about the progress of the hearing and she wanted to “explain what I thought”.

“Looking at the situation and my notes … there are indications, quite a few indications, of protected disclosures. The WRC has recognized that the sensitivity of such an issue is one of the reasons why a hearing should be held in camera because a person has made a confidential disclosure.

“My approach has always been to ensure we focus on the Employment Equality Act. For this reason, and solely because this is a matter of protected disclosure, I have written to the representatives that the hearing, or part of it, should be held in confidence,” she said.

Robin McKenna, IBEC employer relations officer at Dawn Meats, told Ms Cunningham he “understood, based on your correspondence, that the hearing would take place in confidence” and that the next letter from the judge setting out the new position would be I only reached him in public 20 minutes before yesterday’s hearing began.

Lawyer Gerard Cullen, appearing for the complainant, said the judge made her decision on data protection “more than a year ago” at a hearing when the meat processing giant’s request to order the press not to report the allegations was rejected.

Mr Cullen then quoted a letter from the judge which said: “Due to the sensitivity of this case and the allegations published in the press… I have decided that the upcoming hearing will not be held in public.”

He said it was a “U-turn, a U-turn” from the judge’s previous decision – and claimed it had been overturned “not publicly but privately using Mr McKenna’s correspondence”.

Mr Cullen said case law sets a high bar for holding a hearing outside the public eye, citing “family circumstances, morality, public order and national security in a democratic society”, as some of the exceptions allow this.

“It wouldn’t be a matter of national security if someone found out burgers were falling on the floor,” Mr Cullen said. “I am saying that there is no sufficient reason to simply cite ‘sensitivities’ in general terms,” ​​he said.

However, Mr McKenna said Mr Al Jaber’s introduction of protected disclosure into the WRC proceedings was “an attempt by the complainant to defame and embarrass the respondent” and had the potential to cause “great harm” to Dawn Meats.

He said that the WRC’s proceedings explicitly set out a “risk to the employee or employer” and that the tribunal’s enabling legislation gave the judge full discretion in deciding on data protection.

The sentencing official, Ms. Cunningham, said she did not want to influence an investigation by another public body. “My focus really has to be: Was he fired discriminatoryly?” she said.

At a hearing last November, Mr Al Jaber said hygiene measures had been neglected at his workplace in the winter of 2020, while he also claimed he had suffered a back injury from carrying heavy meat containers.

“Sometimes when the line is busy, the burgers fall on the floor,” he said last year, later saying, “If the meat fell down, even in front of the manager, you picked it up and put it back.”

When Mr Al Jaber testified, the meat giant called the allegations “false and defamatory” and denied any discrimination.

Mr Cullen had also applied for Dawn Meats chief executive Niall Browne to appear before the court to give evidence about the company’s possible dealings with the Health and Safety Executive after his client made a disclosure.

Mr Cullen cited correspondence from the HSA which said it was “working with the employer to ensure compliance with the law” and said the regulator had not given him any further updates in the last 12 months.

He said that this was evidence of “what kind of work [Dawn Meats] “I had to do something to meet the conditions described by Mr Al Jaber” in order for the WRC to decide on the issue of reasonable accommodation for his client.

“My client would say that the injury was a result of the working conditions, so the defendant benefits from his own depravity in failing to comply with health and safety regulations,” Mr Cullen said.

Mr Cullen said his client had been “urged to keep quiet”, a comment which Mr McKenna objected to and which he described as “ridiculous” and “damaging to the company”.

Mr McKenna said the engagement between Dawn Meats and the HSA was following Mr Al Jaber’s complaint to the court and was therefore outside its jurisdiction.

“As far as the CEO goes, I think this is just an attempt to embarrass the company,” he said.

Ms Cunningham said: “If the company wishes to make a statement on the current situation, that is their prerogative. I will not force any witnesses to come along.” She said she had already heard relevant evidence from her health and safety representative.

“I don’t accept evidence of burgers falling on the floor. I am considering allegations of equality discrimination in the workplace,” Ms Cunningham said.

Ms Cunningham adjourned the case to a date to be fixed.

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