Thursday, 8 February 2024
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
1. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment for an update on the action plan on collective bargaining coverage to be presented to the European Commission as part of its transposition of the EU directive on adequate minimum wages. [5921/24]
I ask the Minister for an update on the action plan on collective bargaining that will be presented to the European Commission as part of the transposition of the directive on adequate minimum wages. As I am sure the Minister is aware, this is something eagerly awaited by workers and employers alike.
Article 4 of the EU directive on adequate minimum wages, promotion of collective bargaining on wage setting, aims to promote collective bargaining on wages in all member states. The directive requires member states in which the collective bargaining coverage rate is less than 80% to provide “for a framework of enabling conditions for collective bargaining” and to publish an action plan to promote collective bargaining. The 80% threshold is an indicator triggering the publication of an action plan and not a mandatory target to be reached. Last year, my Department participated in the expert group on the transposition of the directive that was established by the European Commission. The group met eight times and adopted its final report in November. The group's report is clear that the design of the framework of enabling conditions and the content of the action plan is entirely up to member states in consultation with social partners. According to the EU expert group report, the action plan should be published by the end of 2025.
My Department, through the permanent representation to the EU in Brussels, is now engaging with other member states to share best practice with regard to the development of the action plans. I had a productive and constructive discussion with the social partners on this issue at the LEEF subgroup on employment and enterprise on 25 January. It has been agreed to establish a technical working group with the social partners and officials from my Department which will examine what elements might be appropriate for Ireland’s action plan. It is expected this group will hold its first meeting next month. The work of the LEEF subgroup on collective bargaining, chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Richmond, which is exploring mechanisms to encourage greater collective bargaining coverage in Ireland, will also be an important input to our action plan.
It is in train. We do not have to have the action plan until the end of 2025, but it is hoped we will be able to shape it long before then.
The Minister said one thing that was a little concerning. He stated it was not a mandatory target, which is fine, as I know it is not. However, he might indicate in his response if the 80% target, mandatory or not, will be the one the Government aims for. Does he believe the 80% coverage is desirable and should be the end goal for the transposition of this directive?
At the enterprise, trade and employment committee recently, the ICTU and IBEC gave a presentation on their own interpretations of the directive. There were differences in opinion from both groups as to how much legislation might be required and how this will be transposed. There were definitely diverging opinions between workers and business as to whether legislation will be necessary to give effect to this. It would be helpful if the Minister could give us an update or idea as to when this will be published, although I appreciate it is not due until the end of next year. I also welcome his opinion as to whether the 80% target is a desirable one for the Government or if it is seen as something of an optional extra.
First, we have not set targets. We have only started the process of real engagement and consultation. That real engagement will only get started in a meeting next month. We have had some initial discussions, and obviously accept the Government's responsibilities in putting an action plan together. However, it is important to say we are a long way short of that 80% figure. Ireland's economy is different from many other economies around Europe. There is not the same demand for union membership and representation in some sectors of the Irish economy as there is in others. I think it is far too early for the Government to be setting a specific target.
What we will do is facilitate and be part of discussions between employers and union representatives to see how we can have an appropriate action plan designed to ensure there are no barriers to the setting up of trade unions in the future and that the action plan is consistent with the approach being asked of us by the European Union, which we buy into. However, it is far too early for me to say what our target should be. I suspect we will have many more question and answer sessions before we finalise the action plan.
That sounds more like a threat than a promise, Minister.
In response to what the Minister has said, I agree that we are way short of 80%. We are miles away from it. Notwithstanding that, in my opinion, which may not be shared other people in this House, the best defence a worker can have at work us to join their union and be active in it. It is also presented as evidence that most workers, given the opportunity, will want to join, be part of and be active in their trade union. The view from IBEC was very different, so the Government will have to take a position on this. There were widely divergent views on how much legislation, if any, would be required. It would be welcome if the Government could be a little bit more proactive. I do not think there is anything wrong with setting the target or, while it is not in the gift of the Minister to directly organise workers and nobody is expecting him to do so, creating the conditions under which workers can more easily become organised. I do not think there is anything wrong with the target of 80%. That would be a worthwhile aspiration for the Government to hold in common with workers.
I hear the Deputy, and she takes a view that is consistent with trade union leadership, which is fair enough. The conversations between the different social partners have actually been constructive. The Minister of State, Deputy Richmond and I have been involved in those discussions. The Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, is involved in that too. The approach the Government is taking is delivering on the commitments we have made to put an action plan in place. I think there will be a lot of discussion and engagement in the coming months in trying to get the balance right between what is appropriate for the Irish economy and what currently works and does not work from an Irish perspective in terms of industrial relations. That needs to be part of that discussion too. We happen to be part of an economy in which industrial unrest is not a major feature. There is a lot working well in industrial relations and relationships between employers and employees in Ireland today. Can we improve it? I think we can, and this action plan can be part of that. Let us see how that debate progresses between the social partners.