Smaller electrical contractor employers could be criminalised or lose their businesses under a law creating a new arrangement for setting pay levels and benefits for electricians, the High Court has been told.
Náisiúnta Leictreach Contraitheor Éireann/National Electrical Contractors of Ireland (Neci) has brought a challenge over a 2019 Labour Court recommendation to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to issue a sectoral employment order covering minimum hourly rates of pay and other matters.
The Minister, following approval from the Houses of the Oireachtas, subsequently issued the order.
The High Court, pending determination of the full case, has stayed part of the Minister’s decision in relation to the pension and sick pay contribution elements of the order. The court refused a stay on a 2.7 per cent wage increase, working time and dispute procedures.
The sectoral employment order arose following an application from trade unions and associations representing electricians.
The Neci, which mainly represents smaller employer contractors outside Dublin, is seeking a declaration that the Labour Court breached its duties, including in relation to transparency in its decisions, before making the recommendation to the Minister.
It claims there was a duty to act in compliance with the Constitution and natural justice and that the Labour Court should have provided clear reasons for its decisions.
The claims are denied by the Labour Court, the Minister, Ireland and the Attorney General.
On the opening day of a remote hearing of the case, Helen Callanan SC, for the Neci, said part of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act of 2015 replaced the old “registered employment agreements” with sectoral employment orders.
There was no supervisory role for the Oireachatas in this new regime. This was not primary but secondary legislation because it was recommended by a committee and then passed by the Oireachtas with no input from the Oireachtas thereafter, she said.
“This is a very dangerous situation for employers and employees and little did we know that the country would be in the middle of a shutdown and these employers cannot reduce wages”, she said.
This was unlike many other sectors, including the law and business, where remuneration has had to be reduced to reflect the current situation, she said.
Counsel also said that, ultimately, if the employer fails or refuses to comply with sectoral employment orders requiring higher payments to employees, they could face up to six months in prison following enforcement proceedings which would be taken in the district court. The alternative is to pay the increases and go out of business, counsel said.
The Neci also claims the Labour Court and the Minister failed to properly follow the procedures set out in the 2015 legislation. The Labour Court in issuing the sectoral employment order recommendation worked it out in a way “which says we [Neci] don’t count because we don’t have sufficient employees”, counsel said.
The case continues before Mr Justice Garrett Simons.