Ireland found in breach of labour rights in European Social Charter

Too low a minimum wage for young workers and Garda strike ban are among breaches, European watchdog says

Ireland is in breach of several labour rights provisions of the European Social Charter, a European human rights watchdog has found.

One of the breaches relates to not ensuring the minimum wage for young people guarantees a decent standard of living,

The right to organise and the promotion of collective bargaining are also breached by Ireland’s failure to enact laws ensuring that workers cannot be dismissed over their trade union involvement, the ban on gardaí from striking and the ban on representatives of military workers joining national employees’ organisations.

Ireland was also among several countries found in nonconformity with the charter’s right to equal pay without discrimination on grounds of sex.


These are among the conclusions in a report issued today by the European Committee of Social Rights, part of the 46-nation Council of Europe.

Its president is Prof Aoife Nolan from Ireland who said the report would not come as “news” to Ireland.

“These issues were identified four years ago, the Government has had fair warning there are problems, but they are going unaddressed,” she told a press conference in Strasbourg.

The committee assessed reports from 34 member states concerning their compliance with provisions of the charter, a social and economic counterpart of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is binding under international law. The state reports related to a four-year period from January 1st, 2017, to December 31st, 2020.

Overall, the committee reached 611 conclusions in respect of 33 states. 255 conclusions were of conformity with the charter, 245 were of nonconformity and 111 cases were deferred for lack of information.

The main overall findings of nonconformity concerned insufficient measures to guarantee just conditions of work and to ensure that work performed on a public holiday is adequately compensated. Other findings related to insufficient promotion of collective bargaining and “manifestly unreasonable” periods of notice for termination of employment or lack of notice for workers on probation.

Insufficient measures to ensure employers and workers organisations are consulted in the promotion of awareness, information and prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace in relation to work were identified.

Positive developments in some states were marked, including amendments of the law concerning the definition and prohibition of sexual and [moral] psychological harassment at work; legislation to ensure compensation for work performed on rest days and less restrictions on the right to strike.

In relation to Ireland, the committee reached ten conclusions of conformity and nine of nonconformity with the charter.

The findings of nonconformity include that Irish law allows all annual leave to be carried over to the following year, which is not in line with the charter’s guarantee of the right to a minimum four weeks annual holiday with pay. Ireland was also found not to conform with the charter’s guarantee of rights of workers performing night work.

Other findings of nonconformity include that the minimum wage paid to workers aged 18 and 19 does not ensure a decent standard of living and the failure to guarantee to all workers the right to increased remuneration for overtime.

The obligation to recognise and respect the principle of transparency of remuneration in practice was not complied with, the committee found.

Other conclusions included that the periods of notice applicable to workers and civil servants here are “manifestly unreasonable” and the safeguards preventing workers from waiving their right to limits to wage deductions are inadequate.

The committee found nonconformity concerning the rights to organise and to promote collective bargaining due to certain closed shop practices here being authorised by law; the fact that domestic law does not protect all workers against dismissal on grounds of trade union membership or involvement in trade union activities; and that military representative associations are prohibited from joining national employees’ organisations.

Only authorised trade unions, their officials and members are granted immunity from civil liability in the event of a strike, gardaí are denied the right to strike and an employer may dismiss all employees for taking part in a strike, it noted.

Ireland was also among the countries found in nonconformity with the charter’s right to equal pay without discrimination on grounds of sex.

Ireland was found in conformity with ten provisions of the charter, including concerning the right to dignity at work and the right to paid public holidays, plus weekly rest periods and annual leave.

The report described as a “positive development” the Harassment, Harmful Communications and related Offences Act 2020, known as Coco’s Law.

The Act created two separate imaged-based criminal offences and broadened the existing offence of harassment to cover all forms of persistent communications about a person.

“Ireland remains one of the most challenging places in Western Europe to exercise your right to organise and access collective bargaining at work,” Owen Reidy, ICTU General Secretary, said. “Essentially, in many instances, it remains the gift of the employer. This is outdated, anti-democratic, and no longer tenable and was never acceptable.”

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times