Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Industrial Relations (Amendment)(No. 3) Bill 2011: Committee Stage


12:00 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)

The section states that "the Court shall have regard to" the following elements, including: "the desirability of maintaining established arrangements for collective bargaining"; "the benefits of consultation between worker and employer"; "the desirability of agreeing and maintaining ... sustainable rates of remuneration"; and "the desirability of maintaining competitiveness in the sector in question". These are all potentially in conflict and the court must weigh them up. That is the purpose of the word "desirability".

There is not an absolute obligation to maintain competitiveness. Indeed, maintaining competitiveness is an ill-defined concept. One would have to weigh it up in any case and look at it as against the standards of workers for whom one is trying to provide, and as against the various different issues the court was being asked to weigh up. The use of the word "desirability" is simply to show that the court is being given discretion to weigh up these different elements. None of them is being established as absolute.

If we left out "the desirability of maintaining competitiveness in the sector in question", someone could then come back and challenge this by stating that while we were obliged to maintain competitiveness in the sector, they did not believe we had done so, and there would be a court challenge. This wording is leaving the Labour Court with the capacity to weigh up these issues, as was intended.

Let us not forget the reason we are here, which is that we did not have adequate policies and principles that underpinned the consideration of these issues. The High Court struck it down and we have to come back with a robust system which shows that different issues are being weighed up in a fair-handed way. That is why the policies and principles are here and why it is being expressed in this way, because there are different things to be done.

The issue of enforcement is the subject we discussed yesterday. I accept there is inadequate enforcement and that awards duly made are often not pursued. Under the separate workplace relations commission, we are introducing better procedures for compliance notices and fixed penalty notices, and, in situations where an employee does not get an award, that employee can go back within six weeks to have that enforced on his or her behalf by the State, with the possibility of criminal offences. We recognise there are breaches and that we need to have a better, more robust and more effective system for enforcement. We recognise there is work to be done in improving the enforcement system. That is a lot of the work we are doing in reforming the employment rights and industrial relations machinery which we discussed in committee yesterday.


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