A well-known businessman persuaded his sister to leave a high-paying job to work at his luxury Waterford hotel, only for the resort to dismiss her after she asked for a raise to bring her pay above the minimum wage, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has heard.
Bernadette Walsh, the sister of Waterford-born businessman Seamus Walsh, told the commission that she left a job in the Bahamas paying €100,000 a year to start work at the Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Resort on a salary of €16,000 per annum.
Mr Walsh, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, bought the hotel from the National Asset Management Agency in 2015, for a reported €6 million. It sits on a private island with an 18-hole golf course on 310 acres east of the city, surrounded by the River Suir.
Standard rooms at the hotel retail at €227 according to the website Booking. com. In 2016, it was listed in the top 10 best hotels in the world in the Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards.
Ms Walsh alleges she was unfairly dismissed in September 2019. She also alleged non-payment of overtime, breaches of the Organisation of Working Time Act and failure to provide a valid contract.
Caroline Doyle, for Waterford Castle, said the firm accepted at the outset that the dismissal was “procedurally unfair”, but said it was their contention that Ms Walsh’s working week “varied” – and that, as a director of the hotel and its general manager, she was responsible for her own working hours.
Addressing the remote hearing from Florida where she now lives, Ms Walsh said her brother persuaded her to leave her job in March 2015 when she came home on holiday.
She said she had agreed to a starting salary of €16,000 – telling the hearing Mr Walsh had called it a “starting base”. But although her duties expanded over the years, her pay did not, she said.
She said she had spoken about pay with Mr Walsh before but only put it in writing for the first time in January 2019. She said that was when relations began to sour. Having taken advice, she met Mr Walsh in August 2019 to resolve the issue.
The adjudicator asked why she thought she had been dismissed.
“Because I pointed out that I needed money, pretty much,” she added.
A letter of immediate termination came on September 2nd, less than a fortnight after the meeting, while Ms Walsh was on sick leave. The hearing was told she only secured a new full-time job in Florida last March.
The company’s chief financial officer, Louise Hurley, appearing for the hotel, said the dismissal came in the context of a wider falling-out among the family, a claim Ms Walsh rejected. Ms Hurley said there was non-communication between brother and sister, which posed a financial risk to the business.
The WRC issued a notification of contravention of employment law to the firm in January 2020 arising from Ms Walsh’s complaint, which was read to the hearing by her solicitor David Gaffney.
It found she had received a gross weekly pay of €307.69. The inspector made an allowance for the weekly statutory deductions of €34.80 for meals and €23.15 for lodgings, and calculated her weekly remuneration at €365.64 – an hourly pay rate of €9.14 on the basis of a 40-hour week.
Ms Hurley said hotel had no record of the exact hours worked by Ms Walsh because she had not used the clock-in system.
Adjudicating officer Patsy Doyle said she would give them her decision within six weeks.