Private sector unions damaged by court ruling on Ryanair, says author
New book examines reality of modern day union representation
A Supreme Court ruling in favour of Ryanair during a dispute six years ago has undermined the ability of trade unions to gain a foothold in private companies, a new book has claimed. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
A Supreme Court ruling in favour of Ryanair during an industrial relations dispute six years ago has undermined the ability of trade unions to gain a foothold in private companies, a new book has claimed.
University of Limerick academic Tom Turner believes the case’s effect of debasing the Industrial Relations Amendment Act 2001 played a significant role in the decline in private sector representation.
Ryanair had refused to co-operate with the Labour Court in a case involving the retraining of pilots. It said that because it had its own “employee representative committees” to deal with such issues, there was no lawful basis for the Labour Court to intervene in the dispute.
This stance was upheld in the airline’s eventual Supreme Court appeal in 2007.
Speaking at the launch of Are Trade Unions Still Relevant – Union Recognition 100 Years On at Liberty Hall last night, Mr Turner said the legislation “was rendered effectively redundant [by the case] and the legal context changed with Ryanair’s successful challenge”.
“This judgment essentially opened the possibility that employers can create their own in-house union equivalents.”
Research presented in the book illustrates a desire for union membership by employees that often goes unfulfilled, particularly in the private sector where just one in five workers is represented. It also deals with the changing demographic mix of trade union involvement which has witnessed increases in the number of women and immigrant members.
“For true employee democracy in the workplace workers need independent representation that only trade unions can provide,” said Mr Turner.
“At present the right of association guaranteed by the Constitution is a mere half-right unless workers also have the right of representation of their choosing.”
Also at last night’s event was the historian Padraig Yeates, marking the relaunch of his book Lockout: Dublin 1913. Mr Yeates said that today’s trade union movement is typically representative of “groups who are relatively comfortably off” – academics, university lecturers and doctors. He said that even those groups are beginning to feel “the sort of mass immiseration” already affecting a lot of lower skilled groups.