Reform of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001
Caroline McEnery of The HR Suite explains the ramifications of the newly reformed Industrial Relations Act and how it will change the relationship between employer and employee
18 May 2015 | 0
On 13 May 2014, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation, Richard Bruton secured Cabinet approval to reform the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001.
This reform aims to improve and modernise the Irish industrial relations framework with the end goal being to provide clarity for employers and increased effectiveness for employees. It is expected that the new legislation will allow trade unions to seek pay increases for employees in situations where the employer does not recognise collective bargaining.
This step towards reform is part of Minister Bruton’s agenda in the enterprise area which has undergone many changes in policies and legislation since 2012. Consultations took place with stakeholders prior to approval to reform with the key consideration given to how to reform the legislation in a manner that will work in the wide-ranging employment spheres within the Irish economy.
Supporters of this legislation have outlined that it will restore the rights contained in the original 2001/2004 Industrial Relations Acts and will be an improvement on that legislation.
This reform of the legislation has been inspired by recent cases which brought the need for reform of industrial relation in Ireland to the forefront of government agendas. For examples in 2007 Ryanair v’s The Labour Court was held in the Supreme Court. The court outlined that Ryanair regularly engaged in collective bargaining through its Employee Representation Councils. The employee councils were deemed to qualify as ‘a body all the members of which are employed by the same employer and which carries on negotiations for the fixing of wages or other conditions of employment of its own members’. The clause in the 1941 act, although more or less dormant since the passing of the act, was central to the judgement. The court’s interpretation of the term ‘excepted body’ legitimised house rules within organisations.
There are several main provisions which are expected to be addressed in the legislation. For example a definition of what constitutes ‘collective bargaining’ is to be established. A framework to assist the Labour Court in identifying if internal bargaining bodies are genuinely independent of the employer will be outlined. Policies and principles will be set out for the Labour Court to follow when assessing workers’ terms and conditions. Guidelines to ensure remuneration, terms and conditions are looked at in their totality will be summarised, in addition to rules in limiting the reoccurrence of assessment of these issues. There is expected to be an injunction of the use of incentives, financial or other, by employers to tempt employees to abandon collective representation by a trade union. Additionally it is anticipated that there will be improved protection for workers by introducing interim relief in the case of dismissal associated with this.
As mentioned above, the proposed new legislation includes changes in relation to collective bargaining. For example clear definitions will be provided for ‘collective bargaining negotiations’ and other terms. This will provide clarity about which companies are covered or otherwise by the acts. Companies who maintain that they are not covered by the acts due to an internal bargaining mechanism will have to demonstrate that the worker representatives within that internal process are genuinely independent of the company.
Minister Bruton stated: “In developing these proposals, I have been keen to respect the positions of both sides of industry. They will retain our voluntary system of industrial relations, but also ensure that workers have confidence that, where there is no collective bargaining, they have an effective system that ensures they can air problems about remuneration, terms and conditions and have these determined based on those in similar companies and not be victimised for doing so.”
The Minister noted that he was positive that legislation will be drafted in a way that complements the Irish economy and our industrial relations history. However, key concerns remain going forward in relation to the country’s ability to secure foreign investment into the economy and the growth of Irish companies which will undoubtedly be impacted upon by the reform in the industrial relations legislation.
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