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Crystal Clean Is Dirty
Unpaid wages and how companies avoid paying their workers
Interview with a former worker with Crystal Clean Valet Servics about her struggle to reclaim money she is owed for worked hours and unpaid holiday days.
Crystal Clean Valet Services
Kevin: This dispute with Crystal Clean is about an employer not paying an award of wages and due holiday pay. Elizabeth, you’re a member of the IWU and the union has taken up your fight. Can you explain how this began?
Elizabeth: It goes back to 2008, believe it or not. I began working at Crystal Clean in March of that year. I was managing a number of their stands – that is Crystal Clean’s car valeting stands in some of the main multi-storey car parks in Cork city centre. I began in Carroll’s Quay and then I was over in Grand Parade. I was also involved in Wilton too, and I actually set up their stand over at City Hall car park – although when I left that closed down.
Kevin: Was it busy?
Elizabeth: You’d always be kept going, especially at weekends.
Kevin: And when did the trouble begin?
Elizabeth: Well, there was always a lot of shouting at staff in there. Some of the girls couldn’t take this and they would often be crying because of it – that’s how it was. I’d hear about it after mostly. They would tell me. Anyway at Christmas that year we were very busy. We were always told never to refuse a car and to say we could always do the job. But we ended up with too many on Christmas Eve. They were all full valets, being Christmas and all, and one of our crew just said he couldn’t do the work. He said it wasn’t possible in the time he had and that he just couldn’t do it. Sp he walked. I phoned the boss and he ate the face off me. It was too much. I mean I didn’t have to put up with that so I gave in my notice.
Kevin: What happened next?
Elizabeth: I went back to the boss after Christmas as he owed me for a number of days worked over the Christmas. And he also owed me holiday pay. So I said this to him and he sort of said straight away that ‘Oh I don’t think it’s that amount at all’. He said he’d check his files – that was his response really. He said he’d ring me back about it but he never did. But I kept after him. He’d almost always be in the Merchant’s Quay car park so I went there to see him a few times. But he would always run off. Kept ducking me, that sort of thing. The minute he’d see me he’d be gone. It happened a lot of times. And he wouldn’t answer my phone calls either.
Kevin: You got in contact with the IWU.
Elizabeth: My dad was in them and he said get in touch with the union. Noel looked into the case and eventually we went to the Rights Commissioner and the Commissioner found completely in my favour. I was awarded compensation for those three days of work that I didn’t get paid for and also for my back holiday pay that I was due. Crystal Clean was also fined for not giving me a proper work contract. In total I was award just over €4000. That was in December 2009.
Kevin: A year and nine months ago?
Elizabeth: Exactly. To be honest I did think I would get my money. I mean I thought that he’d be man enough to pay up and that would be the end of it. But I haven’t got a penny.
Kevin: Noel, the IWU took the case further.
Noel: Of course. But to explain first. The employer in this case had a right to appeal. He could’ve appealed under two separate counts and he had six weeks to do so. But he didn’t appeal. However he didn’t pay the award to Elizabeth either. We then had to seek enforcement. This involves swearing an affidavit, and then via the Circuit Court seeking a judgement for payment. The employer is then informed of the enforcement order. If at this point no payment is forthcoming then one proceeds to the Sheriff’s office, which we did. So we did all of this, but the Cork City Sheriff said there was a difficult with this employer.
Kevin: What was the substance of this?
Noel: The sheriff told us that the business as such was no longer own the original man named in the order. In fact it was now owned by his brother! The sheriff’s office said that for legal reasons it could not now collect the debt that was owed.
Kevin: Where did this leave to Elizabeth?
Noel: It was back to basics. All we can now do is to declare that we are in dispute with this employer about this award. However as Elizabeth was in effect dismissed and another union member, who has also has had trouble with this employer, has also left, we cannot go down the road of withdrawal of labour. Another option would be to place a picket on this company in order to illicit public support. However a further problem arose here to do with the fact that Crystal Clean operates inside the premises of another business – that is inside the car parks operated by Q-Parks. Q-Park ‘advised’ us that they would take us to court if we were to place any pickets outside their businesses and that any losses they suffered would be made liable to the union. We now have no option but to publicise this issue and this dispute as best we can. We are looking for this employer to pay his lawful debts.
Kevin: A last word to you Elizabeth.
Elisabeth: Well the same in away. I am looking for support so I can get what is owed to me. So please support me and the union in this dispute with Crystal Clean. It’s what I am entitled to.