New legislation to reform industrial relations

Tuesday 13 May 2014 15.57
The Labour Court cannot force an employer to recognise unions
The Labour Court cannot force an employer to recognise unions

The Cabinet has approved legislation to improve industrial relations procedures where employers refuse to engage in collective bargaining with employees.

However, the legislation stops short of introducing mandatory union recognition, which would oblige employers to negotiate with unions.

The legislation also beefs up anti-victimisation measures to prevent workers being victimised for trade union activity.

This follows the 2008 Ryanair ruling, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the previous 2004 legislation dealing with this issue was unconstitutional.

The new legislation provides for procedures whereby unions in companies where they are not recognised can apply to the Labour Court for a review of employee terms and conditions, even where the employer refuses to engage.

The court must first satisfy itself that there is a trade dispute involving a "not insignificant" number of workers in a particular grade, group or category who wish to be represented by the union.

The Labour Court will examine the totality of the pay terms and conditions of the employees, having regard to comparators in both unionised and non-union companies, as well as the sustainability of the enterprise.

To avoid victimisation, the general secretary of the union involved will submit a statutory declaration confirming the number of workers involved, but will not at this stage be obliged to disclose names.

However, at a later stage, the workers involved may be required to give oral evidence.

The Labour Court may then issue a determination on pay and conditions, which can be enforced in the circuit court.

However, the Labour Court cannot force an employer to recognise unions.

Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton has said the planned new measures will offer clarity for all concerned.

Mr Bruton said there was broad acceptance of the approach being taken by the Government, and that the Government would now proceed to draft legislative provisions.

Asked about potential concern from employers that the legislation comes close to mandatory union recognition, the minister said the new legislation would not oblige employers to engage in collective bargaining.

However, he said it did provide where an employer chooses not to have collective bargaining, that there will be a system of redress for workers who are not getting fair terms.

Under the plans a trade union could initiate a process under which the Labour Court would make a determination, he said.

In this situation, he said, the Labour Court would initially make a recommendation, and in the event that it was not acted upon, the court could make a determination.