Industrial Relations Bill will improve working conditions

11 June 2015

by Cllr Joe Costello

Speaking in the Dáil on Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015

 I welcome this piece of legislation and commend Minister Nash for bringing it before the House.  Because of the importance of the provisions I trust there will be no delay in making it the law of the land before the summer recess.

 The Bill provides for the reinstatement of Registered Employment Agreements (REA) and for Collective Bargaining.  At the same time a further piece of legislation the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015 is progressing through the Seanad.

 This package of legislative proposals on industrial relations between the employer and employee is the most far reaching reform of Ireland’s industrial relations machinery in decades.

 The new REA framework is particularly important as the old structure of REAs had been struck down by the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds. Whole sectors of the workforce lost a critical component of industrial relations machinery.

 Now we will have a statutory, robust framework to enable workers to negotiate terms and conditions of their employment in a civilised fashion, which will be registered and binding on both parties to the agreement.

 A central part of the agreement on the sale of the States’ shareholding in Aer Lingus to IAG was based on the commitment that this legislation would be passed urgently and that a series of REAs would be negotiated for various sectors of the Aer Lingus workforce and registered when this Bill becomes law.  These are intended to protect against outsourcing of jobs and compulsory redundancies and to provide for pay and conditions of the Aer Lingus employees.

 The REA framework will provide a platform for good industrial relations and will contribute to industrial peace in the workplace.

 Secondly, the Programme for Government included a commitment to reform the current law on workers’ rights to engage in Collective Bargaining so as to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR).  Henceforth, workers with the assistance of their Trade Union will be able to progress claims about pay and conditions of employment and can have the Labour Court decide on the basis of comparisons with similar companies.  This will allow workers where there is no collective bargaining in place to access the Labour Court and obtain a statutory remedy against exploitation.

 This entitlement will create a whole new precedent for worker’s rights where trade unionism is not recognised by the employer at present.

 At the core of the 1913 Lockout was the right of working people to organise through their union and to collectively bargain with their employers.  In 1913, large employers used their dominant position to prosper while too many working people lived in squalor.  Collective bargaining was of such great importance to the men and women of 1913 as it can level the playing field in negotiations between employees and employers, the powerless and the powerful, and it can help ensure that working people receive a fair share of the fruit of their labour.  In 1913 and today, markets, left to their own devices, often result in outcomes that are unfair to the many. 

 Collective bargaining is now a fundamental legal right in 24 of the 27 EU member states.  However, one hundred years on from the Lockout, this is still not the case in Ireland.  It is a significant achievement of the Labour Party in Government and of Minister Ged Nash that we are now introducing collective bargaining legislation.

 The Labour Party is in Government to fix our broken economy.  As we rebuild our economy and society, it is essential that our renewed country is based on equality and fairness. 

 The sustained increase in employment we have seen is most welcome, but we must work to ensure that we are creating jobs with decent wages and conditions.  Central to protecting working conditions is a strong trade union movement and collective bargaining. 

 The present dispute with Dunne’s Stores is caused by the refusal of the supermarket chain to attend the Labour Court.  That situation will no longer pertain when this legislation is passed.

 The National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015 will further enhance certainty and security for low paid workers when enacted and will address a living wage for employees.

All in all this package of industrial relations legislation is critical to best practice in the relations between the employer and the employee for the future.