The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Acts 2001-2004 provide a mechanism whereby the Labour Court can make a binding determination in relation to pay and terms and conditions of employees of non-unionised workforces. In the middle part of the last decade, this legislation was used to great effect by unions to compel changes to terms and conditions of employment of non-unionised companies. At that time, there was no real examination of the number of employees represented by the union or of the totality of terms and conditions of the employer or in the industry. The legislation fell into disuse following a decision of the Supreme Court in 2007. 

The current programme for Government contains a commitment to reform the legislation.  This reform is contained in the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015. This Bill changes the existing legislation in a number of key ways. A summary of the proposed changes are as follows:

  • Wider definition of collective bargaining.  A company will now be regarded as  engaging in collective bargaining where it negotiates with an employee representative body (not just a trade union) “with a view to reaching agreement” regarding working conditions or terms of employment. However, there are strict measures for assessing if this employee body is truly independent and if the engagement amounts to “negotiations”.    
  • The Labour Court will not be able to hear a dispute if the number of employees who are party to the dispute are insignificant, having regard to the number of employees in that group, grade or category. 
  • There will be restrictions on a union’s ability to re-open the same dispute within 18 months of a Labour Court recommendation on the same issue in relation to the same group of employees.
  • Before making a recommendation, the Labour Court will have to be satisfied that “the totality of remuneration and conditions” of the workers concerned provides a lesser benefit than those of comparable workers in similar employments. This allows employers to point to the full range of employee packages where a single issue is the point of dispute.
  • A comparable employer can now be either a unionised or non-unionised company.
  • There will be a mechanism for an application to the Circuit Court for an injunction restraining a dismissal in circumstances where the employee alleges that his dismissal relates to his involvement in an application under this Act.

A word of warning – this Bill is currently going through the Oireachtas so it is subject to potential amendment….watch this space!