Call for legal protection for wage levels

 

New legal protections to ensure workers get the "going rate" for a job are being sought by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in talks on a new partnership deal.

The call is likely to be rejected by employers' body Ibec, which had what it described as a "robust exchange" with Ictu yesterday on the issue of labour market reforms.

In a submission to the talks, Ictu said the fears expressed in a recent Irish Times/TNS mrbi opinion poll about the effects of immigration were "not irrational".

It cited in particular the concern, expressed by 63 per cent of respondents, that the presence of foreign workers was pushing down pay and conditions.

"It is an iron law of economics that an abundant supply of labour pushes down its cost. It is insulting people's intelligence to pretend otherwise," the Ictu submission said.

Employment standards are being discussed by the Government, employers and unions as a separate strand within the overall partnership talks framework.

Ictu says it wants substantial progress on measures to prevent a "race to the bottom" in workers' pay and conditions before it opens talks on other issues. Its opening submission, seen by The Irish Times, identifies three "key aims" underpinning its proposals:

The need to protect workers against practices that would leave them "unduly vulnerable to dismissal"; the need to protect wages "above the level of minimum wage" and the need to provide for improved enforcement, speedy solutions and adequate redress for workers who have had their rights abused, "combined with dissuasive sanctions on employers who breach the law". In relation to wage levels, Ictu said legislation should recognise the "standard week remuneration" where this was above the level of the minimum wage.

Ibec's director of industrial relations Brendan McGinty said last night that the employers' body had made it clear that any proposals would have to be gauged against three key business requirements.

Employers would not accept measures that introduced inflexibility into the labour market, would add to the regulatory burden or would damage Ireland's attractiveness for investment.

Ibec is also opposed to Ictu's call for the labour inspectorate of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to be stood down and replaced by an independent agency.

Mr McGinty said Ibec favoured an examination of the mandate and resourcing of the inspectorate, but believed it should be kept within the department.

He said while an agreement with Ictu was possible on areas such as pensions, training and upskilling, a deal on other areas would be difficult to achieve.