Shortly after coming to power, the government produced an Industrial Relations Amendment Bill designed to reduce the remuneration of workers (mainly low-paid) who were protected under the Joint Labour Committee System (JLC) and the Registered Employment Agreement (REA) system.
A key provision provided that premium rates for Sunday and Bank Holiday working would be abolished. The Bill also provided for the first time that employers could claim inability to pay.
Among those affected are shop workers, hotel and catering workers and building workers. A recent report by Mandate Trade Union showed average weekly earnings by retail workers was down by €109 per week.
The Labour Party in government agreed to this attack on low paid workers and voted for it at second stage in the Dail. The ULA opposed the changes and submitted a series of amendments.
The Bill provided:
(7) In this section—‘remuneration’ means consideration, whether in cash or in kind, which a worker receives from his or her employer in respect of his or her employment but does not include:
15(a) pay or time off from work in lieu of public holidays; (b) compensation under section 14 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 resulting from the requirement to work on a Sunday; (c) payments in lieu of notice; or (d) payments referable to a worker’s redundancy
While the bill was moving through the Dail, the existing system was declared unconstitutional by the courts at the request of Grace Fried Chicken. New employees have been left unprotected since then. Existing employees have come under pressure also despite their contracts of employment. Now the Bill has resumed progress and will be taken at committee stage today TUESDAY. It contains all the defects of the original Bill.
The Troika demanded that employers be given an even stronger basis to claim inability to pay and this is included in the new government amendments which were circulated last Friday.
Labour and Fine Gael have agreed to the amendments. It would appear that ICTU and key unions have agreed to them also.
It is being argued by Labour Party spokespeople that the enhanced inability to pay clause is merely that which exists in minimum pay legislation and is therefore harmless. However pay under JLCs and REAs is considerably greater than the minimum wage. It is probable, therefore, that employers will make far greater use of the new provision than they have of the provision in minimum pay legislation.
The Labour Party attempted to argue that they are merely reversing the decision of the courts and restoring the JLC/REA system. In fact they are “restoring” it in a form that is far weaker than that which has existed for over 50 years and reducing the income of low-paid people in the process.
These matters should be raised at Trades councils and local authorities