The system of industrial relations in Ireland is essentially a voluntarist one, which renders it unusual by comparison with other jurisdictions. Under the current system, whilst employees are legally entitled to join a trade union of their choosing, there is no concomitant obligation on employers to recognise any trade union, unless of course they decide to do so.

The Government has come under increasing pressure from unions to deliver on a campaign promise of mandatory trade union recognition.  At the end of November 2013, the Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister), Eamon Gilmore, announced at the Labour Party’s National Conference that the Government would begin the process of legislating to give employees the right to engage in collective bargaining. He outlined that Labour had agreed in the Programme for Government to reform the current law on employee rights to engage in collective bargaining, so as to ensure State compliance with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Back in February 2013, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, formally requested submissions from all interested parties on collective bargaining.  The Minister has also recently announced that we can expect to see the Government legislating on this matter very soon.

Currently every employee in Ireland has the right to join a trade union and is afforded substantial protection in respect of such membership. This protection is also supported by mechanisms in both the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court. To enforce mandatory collective bargaining and de facto trade union recognition would have a profound impact on the current position in Ireland.  There is strong resistance to this proposed measure from employers’ interest groups such as IBEC, and chambers of commerce representing domestic and international businesses in Ireland.