Fast-food group brings constitutional challenge

 

THE HIGH Court is due to hear a constitutional challenge this week to the way terms and conditions are set down for thousands of workers in the catering sector.

The case, scheduled to begin on Wednesday, is being brought by a group called the Quick Service Food Alliance, which includes companies such as Subway, Abrakebabra, Bagel Factory, Burger King, Eddie Rocket’s, Supermac’s and Hillbillies, as well as sandwich bars and Italian takeaways.

At present, proposals relating to pay and conditions in the sector are drawn up by Joint Labour Committees and submitted to the Labour Court. If a proposal is approved, the court makes an employment regulation order, which sets legally binding minimum terms and conditions.

In its case, the alliance contends that under the Constitution only the Oireachtas has the power to make laws for the State.

It also contends there is no need for labour committees, because of the national minimum wage and 25 other pieces of employment protection legislation.

It is understood a large number of alliance members are being threatened with prosecution by the National Employment Rights Authority, which is seeking payment to workers of large sums owed in arrears.

The alliance’s case is being taken in the name of its chairman, John Grace. In a statement yesterday, he said: “The making of employment regulation orders by the Labour Court is an unconstitutional delegation of this lawmaking function which should be reserved for the Oireachtas.”

He added: “It is unnecessary, unwarranted and unconstitutional that the Catering Joint Labour Committees and Labour Court sets higher rates than those provided for by the existing laws enacted by the Oireachtas.”

Mr Grace said the application of labour committee rates in cases where the minimum wage standard previously applied would put further competitive pressure on the sector and lead to job losses and closures.

Two employment orders are in place for the catering sector, one relating to businesses in Dublin and Dún Laoghaire and the other relating to the rest of the country.