Reform of labour law is fair to all sides, says Bruton


REFORMS TO joint labour committees and other systems for setting pay and conditions will make them fairer and more responsive to changing economic and labour market circumstances, the Government has said.

Minister for Enterprise and Jobs Richard Bruton said new legislation published yesterday would reinstate a “robust system of protection” for workers in sectors where pay and conditions are governed by these arrangements.

About 190,000 workers in areas such as catering, hotels, hairdressing, cleaning and security have terms and conditions set down in legally binding employment regulation orders (EROs). These are produced on foot of deliberations by joint labour committees involving union and employer representatives.

Tens of thousands of other workers have pay and conditions laid down in legally enforceable registered employment agreements. These are drawn up between employers and unions in a sector and registered by the Labour Court. The largest areas covered are construction and electrical contracting.

However, last July, in a case brought by fast-food operator John Grace Fried Chicken, the High Court found that sections of industrial relations legislation governing the joint labour committee wage-setting mechanism were unconstitutional.

Under the new reforms the number of joint labour committees is to be cut from 13 to six. There will also be a significant reduction in the number of separate rates they can recommend.

Under the previous system about 300 separate rates were set by joint labour committees. In the future each of the six committees will only be able to set one basic adult rate and two supplementary minimum rates.

One of the more important areas of the new legislation for workers is that joint labour committees will no longer set premium rates for Sunday working. Instead, workers in these sectors will have to rely on provisions in other employment legislation which could see some employers offer time off in lieu.

But there will be a new statutory code of practice on Sunday working to provide guidance for employers and employees on the compensatory arrangements that should apply “including such additional amounts as are reasonable”.

In future joint labour committees will also have to observe new criteria in making EROs. These include unemployment levels in the sector concerned and the general level of wages in comparable sectors and in similar areas in other jurisdictions.

Under the legislation, companies will also be able to secure derogations for limited periods from the scope of EROs and registered employment agreements if they can satisfy the Labour Court that they face financial difficulty.

The new legislation will also establish a time-bound process by which a registered employment agreement may be varied by the Labour Court in certain circumstances without necessarily obtaining the consent of all the parties concerned.

The new legislation also sets out a clearer definition as to what is meant by the “substantially representative parties” who are entitled to make and maintain registered employment agreements.

Mr Bruton said he wanted “to strike a balance between protecting vulnerable workers and providing reforms that would make the systems more competitive and more flexible so as to allow for the creation of jobs in these sectors”.