News & Media

Labour Bill to reform how wages are set in low paid sectors

26 November 2019

Statement by Senator Ged Nash
Spokesperson on Employment and Social Protection

A Labour Party Bill designed to reform the way wages are set in low paid sectors of the economy will be debated in the Seanad tomorrow.

The Industrial Relations (Joint Labour Committees) Bill 2019 seeks to reform the Joint Labour Committee (JLC) system by giving new powers to the Labour Court to set binding rates of pay above the National Minimum Wage.

This would apply to workers in sectors such as hotels and catering where employee representative bodies continue to refuse to engage in the JLC process.

Labour spokesperson on Employment and Social Protection, Senator Ged Nash, who’s spearheading the Bill in the Seanad, said:

“23% of all Irish workers are on low pay. Everyone who works hard for a living should be able to take home a Living Wage. This should be the measure of a decent society.

“As far back as 1909, it was acknowledged that where the machinery was inadequate to ensure a decent wage for workers in sectors such as hotels and the retail trade, JLCs would be formed to allow workers reps and employers to come together under the aegis of the Labour Court to set binding minimum standards on pay and conditions in certain sectors, by way of what’s known as Employment Regulation Orders (EROs).

“Nowadays, there are only two EROs in place arising from the operation of JLCs and they are in the security and contract cleaning sectors.

“In contract cleaning, workers are currently on a minimum of €10.80 per hour and have to be covered by a pension and sick pay scheme.

“In security, the current ERO rate is €11.65 an hour. Contrast this with catering, hotels, hairdressing, retail an agriculture where employers are only obliged to pay the hourly rate of the minimum wage which currently stands at €9.80 per hour because the JLCs in those sectors provided for in the Industrial Relations Act (2012) do not function, in most cases because of an effective veto exercised by employer groups.

“The operation of this ‘veto’ is a direct and open challenge to the law and a subversion of government policy.

“The reforms I am proposing look to make good on the original intention of the legislation that gave effect to the JLC system and would allow the Labour Court to recommend an ERO to the Minister (and for adoption by the Oireachtas) where employer bodies deliberately stymie the JLC system by the simple act of refusing to show up.

“Under this new Bill, employer bodies will have two choices – to either engage in the JLC process and work with unions to tailor rates of pay and terms that work for their sector, or alternatively have a solution imposed on them by the Labour Court and Oireachtas.

“Good and progressive employers in contract cleaning and in security see the value of Employment Regulation Orders for their sector. Decent pay and conditions have helped them to retain good staff and they know that they have a level playing field and certainty in terms of labour costs when they tender for business. 

“The JLC, sectoral bargaining system is good for business, good for workers, good for our economy and good for our society," concluded Senator Nash.

The Bill is supported by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.