The Government recently announced plans to reform the Industrial Relations Act 2001.  It marks part of the Government's commitment to reform this area as outlined in their Programme for Government so as to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The heads of the Bill are expected to be drafted soon. 

Some of the key provisions expected to be included in the draft legislation are as follows:-

  • A definition of what constitutes "collective bargaining".  The absence of a definition of "collective bargaining" in Irish legislation has been problematic for some time. It was the subject of a disagreement between the Supreme Court and the Labour Court in 2007 in Ryanair v the Labour Court [2007] IESC 6.  The Supreme Court found that the Labour Court could not conclude that a trade dispute was in existence without first establishing that collective bargaining was in place and that internal machinery (if any) for resolving the alleged difficulty had been utilised. The 2001 Act did not have a specific definition for collective bargaining and as such the Supreme Court found that the Labour Court was in error in utilising the industrial relations concept of collective bargaining and an ordinary dictionary definition should apply. It is expected that the new text when published will address this deficiency and include an appropriate definition.   
  • It is expected to include provisions to assist the Labour Court to identify if internal bargaining bodies are generally independent of their employer. It will specifically address the status of "excepted bodies" insofar as ensuring that it is genuinely free of employer influence in terms of negotiating and agreeing wages or other conditions of employment.   
  • It will set out policies and principles for the Court to follow in assessing workers, terms and conditions (and this will include the sustainability of the employer's business in the long term). It is expected to provide provisions that remuneration, terms and conditions are looked at in their totality and limits will be imposed to prevent the frequent reassessment of same.   
  • A clarification as to the requirements to be met by a trade union in advancing a claim under the Act.   
  • Improved protection for employees victimised for seeking trade union support.

The Minister, in announcing the proposals, has confirmed that he is keen to acknowledge and respect the positions of both sides of industry.  The proposed legislation will retain our voluntary system of industrial relations but will also ensure that workers can have confidence that where there is no collective bargaining in place, they will have a mechanism available to air problems about remuneration, terms and conditions and have these determined based on those in similar companies, and not be victimised for doing so.