Thursday, 12 July 2012
Industrial Relations (Amendment)(No. 3) Bill 2011: Committee Stage
Richard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
There are two amendments tabled by Sinn Féin that deal with the issue of the maximum duration for a derogation under the inability to pay clause. Section 9 of the Bill inserts a new section 33 in the 1946 Act providing that where an REA so provides, an employer in financial difficulty may apply to the Labour Court seeking temporary exemption from the requirement to pay the rates of remuneration in the agreement. Section 33A(2) provides that the maximum period of an exemption will be 24 months and must be for a minimum of three months. Section 33A(3)(a) provides that the Labour Court may enable an employer to qualify for up to two consecutive exemptions from the statutory pay terms of an REA where financial difficulties in an enterprise persist after the expiry of a short time limit than the maximum permitted under the legislation. Two consecutive exemptions will, accordingly, be permitted within the overall two year time limit rather than a single one under the Bill as introduced, where this is necessary to safeguard employment. Amendment No. 8, which has been tabled by Sinn Féin, would reduce the maximum exemption to 12 months. Amendment No. 9 would restrict the extension exemption to an overall 12-month limit. The inclusion of a provision to permit an extension to an exemption within the overall two-year limit is a requirement arising from the last review of the programme for financial support agreed with the EU, the IMF and the ECB. The "inability to pay" provisions relating to REAs are substantially the same as those proposed in respect of EROs. However, it is important to stress that an REA "inability to pay" mechanism will only apply if the REA itself permits it to apply. It will be a matter for the Labour Court to determine the appropriate length of an exemption on the basis of its consideration of an application for such an exemption. Accordingly, I cannot accept these amendments. Basically, the 24-month limit is the limit. It will be possible for it to be availed of in two pieces. Previously, it had to be availed of in one piece up to 24 months.