Industrial Relations (Joint Labour Committees) Bill 2019

First Stage: 27 Nov 2019
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Ivana's Contributions

Second Stage: 27/11/2019

Senator Ivana Bacik

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to the House. I also welcome the representatives from SIPTU, ICTU and the bodies with which we have worked on the Bill who are in the Public Gallery. I welcome the support not only from the trade union movement but also the Union of Students of Ireland and the student movement, in recognition that so many of their members work part time and in the casual workforce in low-paid sectors.

I commend my colleague, Senator Nash, for tabling the Bill and for being the driving force behind it. All of us on both sides of the House are aware of his long commitment and track record on workers' rights, trade union rights, decent wages and collective bargaining. Senator Nash has set out the context for the Bill and the history and original purpose behind the idea of joint labour committees. As he said, this is a well established principle going back more than a century when the language of the sweated industries was used to describe sectors where low pay was rampant and conditions were extremely poor. As he said, the idea of a mechanism to control rates of pay and conditions in such sectors is not only a mechanism conducted in the interests of employees, workers and trade unions but also in the interests of employers. The original motivation and impetus behind models such as the JLC policy was to reduce downward wage competition. As the explanatory memorandum sets out, one of the people associated with this mechanism, Winston Churchill, when introducing the first Trade Boards Bill pointed out that the good employer is undercut by the bad and the bad employer is undercut by the worst. It is a race to the bottom where we do not have a mechanism such as this in sectors where traditionally there is low trade union organisation and, therefore, a difficulty with collective bargaining to negotiate pay rates. This is the context in which the Bill has been introduced.

As Senator Nash said, it is not a radical proposal for reform of our system of bargaining and negotiating on wages and conditions. It is entirely in keeping with the history and tradition of our industrial relations framework. This is a very important point. I must say it is very disappointing to see not only the Government and Fine Gael oppose the Bill but also Fianna Fáil, when it is a Bill that is very much in this tradition.

As Senator Nash said, we know the JLC concept was fundamentally altered by the judicial review taken by the Irish Hotels Federation. The Government accepted and assumed at the time that non-co-operation of an employer representative body would stymie the appointment of representative members to a JLC, thereby setting up an employer's veto, albeit with no constitutional basis. When one looks at the history and tradition of trade unions and the industrial relations framework, one sees the voluntary model to which the State referred in sharing that assumption was always supplemented by an understanding that a JLC or equivalent mechanism would have to operate in sectors where voluntarism did not work because there was not an organised trade union movement.

The employer's veto as it is called, or this impasse, has stymied the work of JLCs. This has had a serious knock-on effect on the working conditions and pay of so many of our lowest paid workers. I commend Senator Nash, SIPTU and the other unions for the excellent briefing with which they provided us in the audiovisual room in Leinster House last week, when we heard directly from some of the front-line workers who are so affected every day by the absence of a JLC. They are workers in catering, hairdressing, hotels and allied trades. The trade union organisers spoke about the positive impact where a JLC operates, for example in the security industry, where an employment regulation order sets a pay rate of €11.65 per hour compared with the minimum wage being earned by workers who are not in JLC sectors of €9.80 an hour. We see a race to the bottom in sectors where JLCs do not operate and we see this as being very much against the original spirit and intention of our industrial relations framework.

I appeal to colleagues on both sides of the House to support the Bill. It is a sensible and compassionate reform in the interests of the lowest paid and the most vulnerable workers in our society.