Non-union employers could face penalties if they do not negotiate with trade unions, according to recommendations from a new independent report.
On Wednesday, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment published the final report of its high-level group that was set up to review collective bargaining and the industrial relations landscape in Ireland.
Among its recommendations, the group states there should be “good faith engagement” between unions and employers at enterprise level, where a trade union has organised members in the company, but where the employer does not engage in collective bargaining with a trade union or excepted body.
Under the proposal, a trade union must establish a threshold of membership among a specific grade, group or category of workers employed by the employer.
Once that threshold is met, the employer will be obliged to engage in good faith with the union and can be ordered to do so by the Circuit Court.
“Failure to comply with such an order of the Circuit Court is an offence, and a person guilty of such an offence will be subject to a pecuniary penalty,” the report states.
However, the report states that good faith engagement does not require that parties reach agreement, adding that a trade union would not be able to make any further application to the Labour Court for a good faith engagement for a period of three years.
The trade union also will not have recourse to industrial action once the good faith engagement process has been triggered.
The high-level group was chaired by Prof Michael Doherty, head of the department of law at Maynooth University, and included representatives of unions, employers and the Government.
The report also called for the strengthening of joint labour committees (JLCs), so that the statutory system established “secures the confidence of all participants”.
“While a minority of JLCs function well at present, the robustness and effectiveness of this statutory mechanism have been impacted by employer disengagement in relation to the operation of the JLC system in a number of sectors,” it states.
“The nature of the JLC system at present means that the non-participation by either side of industry renders an established JLC inoperable.”
Welcoming the publication of the report, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it will now be “fully considered by Government, with a view to how its recommendations can be best implemented”.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Ireland currently operates a voluntary system of industrial relations, Irish laws are currently “weak when parties refuse to engage” in collective bargaining.
“We also need to keep abreast of the legal situation, as well as developments at EU level which will require us to promote better representation of workers in the workplace.”
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) endorsed the recommendations in the report, stating they are “crucial to aligning our industrial relations procedures with our EU peers and for delivering improved outcomes for workers and employers”.
Danny McCoy of Ibec, which represents businesses, said: “It is important to look forward, for business to work to shape the right conditions for future engagements and maintain the best aspects of our existing, very stable industrial relations environment.”