International law may be broken unless bargaining processes strengthened

New report says collective coverage at an historic low in Ireland

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan said Ireland remained an outlier in Europe when it came to collective bargaining. File photograph: Laura Hutton

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan said Ireland remained an outlier in Europe when it came to collective bargaining. File photograph: Laura Hutton

 

Ireland is in danger of breaching international law unless collective bargaining processes are strengthened, a new trade union-commissioned report has found.

The report says that collective bargaining coverage is at an historic low in Ireland. It says the number of workers who benefit from collective bargaining in Ireland is about 33.5 per cent, the second lowest among among the 14 countries in EU membership since before 2004.

The report – Collective Benefit: harnessing the power of representation for economic and social progress – which is to be launched on Monday, says 24.4 per cent of workers in Ireland are unionised overall but in the private sector the figure is 18 per cent.

While workers in Ireland have a constitutional right to join a trade union, there is no constitutional obligations on employers to recognise or engage with trade unions.

The new report, which was commissioned by the trade union Fórsa, urges the Government to “harness the productive power of sectoral bargaining” which it says will improve wage levels and pay equality, as well as creating conditions to improve productivity, boost demand, enhance innovation, and deliver greater stability for businesses and their staff.

The report says that while collective bargaining coverage may be at a historic low in Ireland, it is not an inevitability.

“It is not even a regrettable consequence of our service-driven, globally-connected and competitive economy. Other countries in Europe have found ways to increase bargaining coverage, through State support for trade unions and the bargaining process that creates a cultural norm of bargaining throughout the economy. It is vital to the success and stability of the Irish economy, and the protection of workers’ rights, that such a cultural shift occur here.”

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan said Ireland remained an outlier in Europe when it came to collective bargaining.

“We are near the bottom of the scale on worker representation and participation in economic decision-making. The contrast is starker if you look at more modern and progressive countries, and this research shows that we are close to non-compliance with international law on the right to be represented by a trade union.”

“Internationally a change of mood is underway. Joe Biden’s administration is starting the process of beefing-up collective bargaining rights, and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen recently promoted the idea in her State of the European Union address. By contrast, the Irish Government remains out of kilter with this new mood,” he said.

Second-lowest

Mr Callinan said Ireland is currently among a group of EU member states seeking to downgrade a European Commission initiative to tackle low pay, income inequality and the gender pay gap by increasing collective bargaining coverage across the continent

He said the proposed EU directive on the minimum wage required Ireland, and other EU member states, to take action to increase to 70 per cent the number of workers who benefitted from collective bargaining.

“Coverage in Ireland is currently around 33.5 per cent , placing the country second-lowest among the 14 countries in EU membership since before 2004. There can be no doubt that we have ample room to improve the situation in Ireland,” he said.

Mr Callinan said the report would contribute to the work of the high-level working group, established by the Government in March under the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) which is currently examining how collective bargaining could be developed in ways consistent with competitiveness.

Mr Callinan said the report looked at how other countries in Europe had found ways to increase bargaining coverage, through State support for trade unions and the bargaining process, creating a “cultural norm” of bargaining throughout the economy.

“It is vital to the success and stability of the Irish economy, and the protection of workers’ rights, that such a cultural shift occur here.”