Government drops third attempt to set electrical contractors’ pay

High Court confirms it will quash bid when it comes into court, following proceedings taken by industry representative body

The Government has agreed to drop a third bid to set pay and conditions for electrical contractors following a legal challenge by a leading industry body.

Damien English, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, signed an order in December last year setting pay, working hours, pension contributions and other conditions for electrical contractors under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015.

The National Electrical Contractors of Ireland (NECI), which represents the industry’s smaller businesses, subsequently began High Court proceedings challenging the order on several grounds.

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Chief State Solicitor Maria Brown recently wrote to the organisation confirming that it would consent to an order quashing the statutory instrument when the issue is due back in court later this month.

Once the court quashes the order, the terms, pay and conditions that it sets out will no longer be valid.

This is the NECI’s third successful challenge to efforts to set pay and conditions for its industry. In 2020, the Supreme Court overturned a similar order made the previous year following proceedings brought by the organisation. In 2017, unions withdrew an application to the Labour Court after the NECI challenged this.

The NECI represents smaller contractors, based mainly outside Dublin, and feared that the terms and conditions in both orders could push members out of business.

The 2015 law is meant to set employment terms for construction. Following an application from trade unions or employers, the Labour Court can recommend to the minister that he or she issue a “sectoral employment order” governing pay and conditions in a particular industry.

If both Houses of the Oireachtas pass the draft order, the minister can issue a statutory instrument making the order’s terms binding on the industry as a whole.

The Labour Court last year recommended that Mr English make the order governing electrical contractors following representations from Connect trade union, the Electrical Contractors’ Association, the Association of Electrical Contractors Ireland, the Construction Workers’ Pension Scheme, the NECI and others.

The NECI lodged its challenge with the High Court in February. The State did not file any response, but wrote to the organisation saying it would consent to the court quashing the Minister’s order on one of the grounds that the industry body set out.

In a note to members, the NECI says that it has constantly sought fairness and transparency in the Labour Court procedures that have led to the introduction of two redundant sectoral employment orders for its industry.

“Despite the NECI’s efforts it has always been our opinion that the Labour Court has substantively ignored our concerns,” the note adds.

“The treatment of sectoral employment order processes to date leaves us still very concerned that the Labour Court can effectively rubberstamp agreements made between the Electrical Contracting Association, Connect trade union and the Construction Workers’ Pension Scheme,” says the NECI.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas