While the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 would not require employers to recognise unions it requires them to accept the binding determination of the Labour Court in any case brought by trade unions on behalf of their members where collective bargaining does not exist.
If the employer refuses to implement a binding Labour Court determination the Circuit Court can enforce the ruling under the planned legislation.
The new law, which is expected to be passed before the end of July also reinstates the Registered Employment Agreement mechanisms which set rates of pay and other terms and conditions for workers in low paid sectors of the economy.
The Bill provides for a range of strong measures to protect workers from victimisation by their employers for seeking to vindicate their rights under the legislation. It also provides for Sectoral Employment Orders under which pay and conditions in certain sectors can be set by the Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation.
According to SIPTU President, Jack O’Connor, the collective bargaining legislation is not as robust as the trade union movement would like but could make a significant improvement in the working conditions of tens of thousands of unionised workers.
“As always, it does not go as far as we would wish. Employers will not be required to recognise trade unions for the purpose of collective bargaining. This has already been ruled out by the Supreme Court in the Ryanair v IALPA decision in 2005. It held that there is no law requiring employers to recognise trade unions nor can one be enacted, he said.
“However, what is envisaged in the new legislation is the reinstatement of the provisions of the 2004 Act which was designed to ensure that workers would not be disadvantaged by reason of their employers’ refusal to afford them union recognition. The mechanism entails Labour Court investigation, recommendation and binding determination. This will only apply if it is requested by the union side. Employers who do not engage in collective bargaining will not be entitled to seek binding determinations from the Labour Court.
“There is no denying it represents progress. However, no law, irrespective of how good it is, will of itself tackle exploitation in the workplace. That is still down to the task of persuading workers to organise themselves in unions so that they can assert their entitlement to dignity and fair treatment. The measures envisaged in this new Bill will make it somewhat easier to do so, but it will not do it for us – we still have to do it ourselves.”