Workplace review could compel all employers to talk to unions

Unions see Government announcement of high-level review as a step forward

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar has made a number of statements in recent weeks supporting worker rights. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar has made a number of statements in recent weeks supporting worker rights. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

Plans for a major review of industrial relations in Ireland, which trade unions hope could ultimately lead to a legal requirement for employers to negotiate with them, are to come before Cabinet on Tuesday.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Employment Leo Varadkar will recommend to the Cabinet the establishment of a special review group to report back within four months.

The proposed new high-level review is considered within the Government as an opportunity to look at collective bargaining and the industrial relations landscape. Sources said the Government was not committed in advance to any particular outcome.

However, trade unions have long argued that it is a fundamental human right for workers to be permitted to bargain collectively with their employer for fair pay and conditions of employment.

Unions consider the new review, expected to be announced by the Government on Tuesday, to represent a step forward for their campaign.

Issues of concern

The proposed new group would operate under the auspices of the Labour Employer Economic Forum which acts as a space for Government, unions and employers to consider issues of concern about the economy, employment and the workforce.

The proposed new review group would be composed of trade union and employer representatives as well as Government officials. The group may also include academics in the field of industrial relations.

At present, while workers have rights to join a trade union, under Irish law there is no obligation on employers to recognise or engage with trade unions.

It has been the consistent policy of successive Irish governments to support a voluntary system of industrial relations, with a comprehensive statutory framework to support collective bargaining.

It is understood that the new group proposed by Mr Varadkar would consider any legal or constitutional obstacles to the issue of trade union recognition, as well as take account of developments at EU level.

Adequacy

The group would also look at the adequacy of the existing workplace relations framework and review the structure of wage-setting mechanisms that are in place.

If approved by Cabinet on Tuesday, it is understood that the new group would report on a monthly basis to Mr Varadkar on its work, with a view to having an interim report completed by the end of July.

Senior figures in the business community said whatever emerged from the new review would have to be consistent with maintaining competitiveness, fairness and dynamism in the business sector.

Mr Varadkar has made a number of statements in recent weeks supporting worker rights, saying the pandemic has led to a re-definition of what constitutes a frontline or essential worker. He has also met with Deliveroo riders who he described as “essential workers” and called for them to be “treated better”.