The Labour Party has proposed legislation to confirm the pay terms and conditions of thousands of construction workers in legally enforceable Sectoral Employment Orders, which were recently deemed unconstitutional by the High Court.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Garrett Simons found that provisions of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 which underpinned legally enforceable Sectoral Employment Orders negotiated between employer groups and unions under the auspices of the Labour Court was unconstitutional.
The ruling means that SEOs governing the pay and conditions of thousands of workers in the construction, mechanical engineering and electrical contracting sectors are no longer valid.
While existing workers will preserve the terms and conditions provided for in the former SEOs, new recruits will have no such rights. A number of unions are holding a "protective" ballot in case any employers seek to reduce the terms of workers, now that the SEOs no longer apply.
The judge was also critical of the Labour Court and the Minister for Business Enterprise and Innovation for how they purported to create an SEO for the electrical contracting sector, which was successfully challenged by National Electrical Contractors Ireland.
The Government has not yet indicated whether it intends to appeal the ruling.
If enacted, the Labour Bill proposed by Employment Affairs spokesperson Ged Nash would see the terms of the SEOs which were struck down enshrined in law through an Act of the Oireachtas.
Deputy Nash said the "far-reaching" Simons judgment had had a "chilling" effect on the conduct of industrial relations in this country, adding that it could have consequences beyond the immediate subject area of the employment legislation examined by the court.
"The Industrial Relations (Sectoral Employment Orders Confirmation) Bill 2020 seeks immediately to remedy a defect identified by the court by giving statutory effect to the recommendations of three purported sectoral employment orders covering tens of thousands of electricians and construction workers across all kinds of grades and categories," he said.
"The terms of these three orders that were struck down by the High Court can, under the proposed legislation, be converted into primary law with the blessing of both Houses of the Oireachtas to address some of these significant defects identified by the High Court."
Deputy Nash noted that the Programme for Government was "virtually silent" on the question of workers' rights and their advancement.
He said that since its foundation, the State had highlighted the desirability of allowing space for unions and employers to engage in "... sectorally applicable and enforceable agreements across entire economic sectors in order to support the principle of decent work, avoid a damaging race to the bottom and promote a level playing pitch for good, compliant businesses".
Deputy Nash said his bill would continue in that tradition, and had the support of the trade union movement given the urgent implications for tens of thousands of workers across the construction sector and other related disciplines.
He expressed the hope that the Government would support the legislation when it is tabled for Second Stage debate.