Meskell v Córas Iompair Éireann

CourtSupreme Court
Judgment Date19 December 1973
Docket Number[1962. No. 130 P.]
Date19 December 1973
Meskell v. Coras Iompair Éireann
[1962. No. 130 P.]

Supreme Court

Trade union - Member - Right of dissociation - Employer requiring workmen to be members of specified unions at all times - Conspiracy - Violation of right guaranteed by Constitution - Statute - Interpretation - Railways Act, 1933 (No. 9), s. 10 - Transport Act, 1950 (No. 12), s. 46 -Constitution of Ireland, 1937, Article 40, s. 6, sub-s. 1 (iii).

Four trade unions had members in the employment of the defendants. The unions were dissatisfied with the level of union membership among the defendants' employees, and the unions were also trying to reduce the number of employees who were in arrears with their union dues. The unions tried to compel the defendants to withhold certain benefits from some of the defendants' employees. The defendants refused to withhold the benefits but they agreed with the unions to terminate the contracts of employment of all their employees and to offer each employee immediate re-employment upon the same general terms as theretofore if he agreed, as a special and additional condition of his employment, to be "at all times" a member of one of the four trade unions. Pursuant to that agreement, the plaintiff's contract of employment was terminated by the defendants who gave the plaintiff the appropriate notice of termination. The plaintiff was not re-employed by the defendants as he refused to accept the special condition. At the date of his dismissal, the plaintiff had been in the defendants' employment for 15 years; he was a member of one of the four unions and had paid all his union dues. When the plaintiff was first employed by the defendants, union membership was not a term of the plaintiff's contract of service. The plaintiff sued the defendants for damages in the High Court and claimed a declaration that his dismissal by the defendants was a violation of his rights under the Constitution; he also claimed damages for conspiracy. The claims were dismissed and on appeal by the plaintiff it was

Held by the Supreme Court ( Ó Dálaigh ó dálaigh C.J., Walsh and Budd JJ.), in allowing the appeal, 1, that the right of citizens to form associations and unions, guaranteed by Article 40, s. 6, sub-s. 1, of the Constitution, necessarily recognised a correlative right to abstain from joining associations and unions.

Educational Company of Ireland Ltd. v. Fitzpatrick (No. 2) [1961] I.R. 345 applied.

2. That the attempt by the defendants to coerce the plaintiff into abandoning his right of dissociation was a violation of the fundamental law of the State and was unlawful, notwithstanding that the attempt was based upon a proper notice of termination of the plaintiff's contract of service.

3. That, although the purpose of the defendants' agreement with the unions may have been the advancement of the interests of the parties thereto rather than the injury of the plaintiff, the defendants had employed unlawful means in furtherance of that purpose resulting in damage to the plaintiff and that, accordingly, the defendants had been engaged in an actionable conspiracy and the plaintiff was entitled to damages, to be assessed.

Sorrell v. Smith [1925] A.C. 700 considered.

4. That the plaintiff was also entitled to damages because he had suffered loss caused by the defendants' conduct in violating a right guaranteed to the plaintiff by the Constitution.

Byrne v. Ireland [1972] I.R. 241 considered.

Appeal from the High Court.

The plaintiff entered the employment of Coras Iompair Éireann éireann (1945) as a bus conductor in the year 1945 when he was 21 years of age. The defendants were established on the 1st June, 1950, by s. 5 of the Transport Act, 1950. The public transport and other undertakings of Coras Iompair Éireann éireann (1945) were transferred to the defendants by s. 23 of the Act of 1950, and by s. 36 of that Act the employees of Córas Iompair Éireann éireann (1945) were transferred to the employment of the defendants. The plaintiff remained a bus conductor in the employment of Córas Iompair Éireann éireann (1945) and of the defendants until he was dismissed by the defendants on the 29th October, 1960. During his said employments the plaintiff had been a member, first, of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and then of the Workers Union of Ireland for a period of seven years preceding his dismissal.

The plaintiff issued his plenary summons on the 25th January, 1962, and he delivered his statement of claim on the 17th April, 1962. In his statement of claim the plaintiff claimed, first, a declaration that his dismissal by the defendants was a denial and a violation of and an unlawful interference with the rights of the plaintiff under the Constitution of Ireland, 1937; he claimed, secondly, a declaration that such dismissal was in pursuance of a conspiracy, agreement and combination, and that it was a denial and violation of and an unlawful interference with his rights under the Constitution; and, thirdly, he claimed damages.

As a condition of his re-employment by the defendants, the plaintiff was required to agree to being at all times a member of a trade union "representative of the road passenger operative grades" in the defendants' organisation, which was a reference to the following trade unions:— Irish Transport and General Workers Union, Workers Union of Ireland, Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union, and National Association of Transport Employees.

Article 40, s. 3, of the Constitution of Ireland, 1937, provides:—

"1 The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.

2 The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen."

Article 40, s. 6, of the Constitution provides:—

"1 The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality . . . iii. The right of the citizens to form associations and unions. Laws, however, may be enacted for the regulation and control in the public interest of the exercise of the foregoing right.

2 Laws regulating the manner in which the right of forming associations and unions and the right of free assembly may be exercised shall contain no political, religious or class discrimination."

The plaintiff's action was tried by Teevan J., sitting without a jury, on the 10th-13th April, 1967. The trial judge treated the action as one claiming damages for conspiracy; he delivered his judgment on the 26th April, 1968, dismissing the plaintiff's claims on the ground that the object or purpose of the combination between the defendants and the trade unions had been to advance their own interests rather than to injure the plaintiff.

The plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court from the judgment and order of the High Court.

Cur. adv. vult.

ÓDalaigh ó dalaigh C.J.:—

I have read the judgment which Mr. Justice Walsh is about to deliver and I agree with it. Mr. Justice Budd, who is unable to be present to-day, has authorised me to say that he concurs with the judgment of Mr. Justice Walsh.

Walsh J.:—

On the 29th October, 1960, the defendants dismissed the plaintiff from his employment as a bus conductor in their service. He had been employed in that capacity for a period of 15 years and this action arose out of his dismissal. At all times during his employment the plaintiff had been a member in good standing of a trade union. For seven or eight years preceding his dismissal he had been a...

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