Living and working in Ireland

18 October 2017

  •   Population: 4.7 million (2017)
  •   Real GDP growth: 5.1% (2016)
  •   Unemployment rate: 7.9% (2016)

Data source: Eurostat

Eurofound provides research, data and analysis on a wide range of social and work-related topics. This information is largely comparative, but also offers country-specific information for each of the 28 EU Member States. Most information is available in English but some has been translated to facilitate access at national level.

Eurofound strives to strengthen the ongoing link between its own work and national policy debates and priorities related to quality of life and work. Increasingly important in this context is the Europe 2020 growth and jobs strategy launched in 2010, which has five headline targets, covering employment through to social inclusion and poverty reduction. The strategy is implemented in the context of the European Semester process – the EU's annual cycle of economic policy guidance and surveillance – which ensures that Member States keep their budgetary and economic policies in line with their EU commitments through, in part, National Reform Programmes. These programmes form the basis for the European Commission's proposals for country-specific recommendations (CSRs) for each Member State.

European Commission: The European Semester
European Commission: The European Semester - EU country-specific recommendations
European Commission: European Semester documents for Ireland

2015 Eurofound EWCS survey results in Ireland: 89% of people are satisfied with working conditions in their job

Survey results

Satisfaction with quality of life
Data source: 2012 EQLS survey

Ability to choose or change
methods of work

Data source: 2015 EWCS survey

Possibility to accumulate overtime
for days off

Data source: 2013 ECS survey

News and quarterly country updates

Eurofound contacts in Ireland

Correspondents in Ireland

Correspondents report on topics related to developments in the countries working life and inform Eurofound’s pan-European comparative analysis. Read more

IRN Publishing Ltd / National University of Ireland, University College Dublin NUID UCD

Eurofound governing board members from Ireland

Eurofound's Governing Board represents the social partners and national governments of all Member States, as well as the European Commission. Read more

Fiona Ward Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation

Maeve McElwee Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC)

Jack O'Connor Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU)

Related content

Other country-specific information may be available in certain areas on demand. Please feel free to contact your country contact at Eurofound for this or any other information at information@eurofound.europa.eu

Working life in Ireland

About

  • Author: Andy Prendergast and Roisin Farrelly
  • Institution: IRN Publishing

This profile describes the key characteristics of working life in Ireland. It aims to complement other EurWORK research by providing the relevant background information on the structures, institutions and relevant regulations regarding working life. This includes indicators, data and regulatory systems on the following aspects: actors and institutions, collective and individual employment relations, health and well-being, pay, working time, skills and training, and equality and non-discrimination at work. The profiles are updated annually.

Key figures

Key figures

Comparative figures on working life in Ireland

 

2011

2016

% (point) change
2011–2016

Ireland

EU28

Ireland

EU28

Ireland

EU28

GDP per capita

36500

25800

51400

26900

40.8%

4.3%

Unemployment rate – total

14.7

9.7

7.9

8.5

-6.8

-1.2

Unemployment rate – women

10.8

9.8

6.5

8.7

-4.3

-1.1

Unemployment rate – men

17.8

9.6

9.1

8.4

-8.7

-1.2

Unemployment rate – youth

29.1

21.7

17.2

18.7

-11.9

-3.0

Employment rate – total

69.2

71.1

70.5

73.0

1.3

1.9

Employment rate – women

61.9

64.8

63.7

67.4

1.8

2.6

Employment rate – men

76.6

77.5

77.5

78.6

0.9

1.1

Employment rate – youth

41.5

42.5

38.8

41.6

-2.7

-0.9

Source: Eurostat - Real GDP per capita (chain linked volumes [2010], in EUR) and percentage change 2011-2016 (both based on tsdec100). Unemployment rate by sex and age - annual average, % [une_rt_a]; Employment rate by sex and age - annual average, % [lfsi_emp_a].

Background

Background

Economic and labour market context

Ireland is a small, open economy, heavily dependent on international trade and foreign direct investment. Between 2011 and 2016, Irish GDP grew an impressive 40.8%, about 10 times the EU average for the same period (4.3%). During this time, total unemployment decreased 6.8 percentage points, reaching 7.9% in 2016, below the EU average rate of 8.5% for that year. Youth unemployment decreased 11.9 percentage points in the five years, about four times more that the EU average of -3.0% for the same period. Employment rates between 2011 and 2016 showed some growth; however,  youth employment rate fell 2.3 percentage points to reach 38.8% in 2016, below the EU average for the same year (41.6%).

More information on:

Legal context

The industrial relations system has historically been characterised by ‘voluntarism’; this has meant minimum intervention by the law rather than non-intervention by government in collective bargaining.

The growth of individual employment law has led to the development of an increasingly complex system of institutional arrangements that operate in a quasi-legal fashion to adjudicate on cases. In 2011, a reform of the current employment rights institutions was launched . Under the plan the existing five workplace relations bodies will be replaced by a new two-tier structure, with a new Workplace Relations Commission and an expanded Labour Court. The enabling legislation for this change was passed in July 2015.

The reform of legislation for wage-setting sectoral agreements under the Joint Labour Committee (JLC) and Registered Employment Agreement (REA) mechanisms has been completed, with both JLCs and new Registered Employment Agreements & Orders permitted to be established. The new Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 , which provides a new definition of collective bargaining as well as enhanced protection against victimisation of workers, was also passed in July 2015. It corrects aspects of the IR Acts 2001 to 2004 which severely limited the use those Acts.

Industrial relations context

The industrial relations system has changed significantly over the past 20 years, with a concentrated period of change since 2009. There has been a gradual erosion of voluntarism and collectivism and a growing legalisation of the employment relationship – particularly the growth of individual rights-based employment law in certain areas.

Recently, two issues reignited the debate on collective bargaining. Firstly, a commitment by the Fine Gael/Labour Government, in their 2011 joint programme for government, ‘to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.’ (Irish Government, 2011). Secondly, in 2012, the Committee on Freedom of Association at the International Labour Organization recommended that the Irish Government ‘review the existing framework and consider any appropriate measures, including legislative measures, so as to ensure respect for the freedom of association and collective bargaining principles’ (ILO, 2012).

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 gave effect to the Programme for Government Commitment to reform legislation on collective bargaining. The Act defines collective bargaining as voluntary engagements or negotiations between any employer or employers’ organisation on the one hand and a trade union of workers or an excepted body on the other hand, with the objective of seeking agreement regarding the working conditions or terms of employment or non-employment of workers. The definition requires that there be more than consultation or the exchange of information. The purpose of the exercise must be to seek agreement on working conditions and the terms of employment or non-employment.

The Act does not impose any obligation on employers to engage in collective bargaining. However, the Act broadens the circumstances in which workers, whose employers refuse to engage in collective bargaining, can have relevant disputes addressed.

Perhaps the most important trend in Irish industrial relations over the past 20 years was the introduction, evolution, and then subsequent breakdown, in early 2010, of national-level collective bargaining and social dialogue (‘social partnership’). In 1987, the first of six centralised agreements or social pacts were negotiated. Evaluations of social partnership, before it withdrew, varied from seeing it as contributing to strong economic performance, growing employment, low levels of unemployment, rising real wages and decreasing levels of absolute poverty, to a perception that it increased inequality in wages, and featured high levels of relative poverty and low expenditure on public services compared with other advanced economies. Since the end of formal social partnership, collective bargaining has taken place at company level.

In 2016, a new Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF), which includes representatives of employers and trade unions with government ministers, was established. The aim of the LEEF is to provide a space to discuss areas of shared concern affecting the economy, employment and the labour market on a thematic basis, such as competitiveness, sustainable job creation, labour market standards and equality and gender issues in the workplace.

Actors and institutions

Actors and institutions

Trade unions, employers’ organisations and public institutions play a key role in the governance of the employment relationship, working conditions and industrial relations structures. They are interlocking parts in a multilevel system of governance that includes the European, national, sectoral, regional (provincial or local) and company levels. This section looks into the main actors and institutions and their role in Ireland.

Public authorities involved in regulating working life

The Department of An Taoiseach (prime minister) was the Government wing of the former tripartite social partnership system (1987–2009). However, the remit for the Government’s involvement in industrial relations and working conditions today is under the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation. This Department is in charge of all major legislative changes in this area (industrial relations laws; dispute resolution state bodies). It is also tasked with the establishment of the new Low Pay Commission, and is responsible for discussion around the national minimum wage.

The Department of Public Expenditure & Reform , established in 2011, is largely responsible for the public sector paybill and pensions. It also negotiated the major public sector stability agreements (the Haddington Road Agreement and its successor, The Lansdowne Road Agreement) with the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions with the assistance of the Labour Relations Commission.

The Workplace Relations Commission was established in 2015. It is an amalgamation of five state bodies which previously regulated employment relations: the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), the Labour Court, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT), the Equality Tribunal (ET), and the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA).

The Labour Court deals with individual and collective dispute referrals.

The Health & Safety Authority is the national statutory body with responsibility for ensuring workers (employed and self-employed) and those affected by work activity are protected from work related injury and ill-health. It enforces occupational health and safety law, promotes accident prevention, and provides information and advice across all sectors.

Representativeness

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is the umbrella group for the large majority of trade unions in Ireland, with 48 affiliated trade unions. At national level, such as with the 2013 public sector agreement talks, the ICTU is the central negotiating body. (ICTU was also one of the tripartite bodies during the formal social partnership era). Trade unions do not have to be affiliated with the ICTU to be a legitimate trade union. However, in the public sector, the employer (Government) does not bargain with non ICTU unions. A trade union must comply with the terms of Trade Union Acts and Industrial Relations Acts and must satisfy a list of criteria to be granted a negotiating licence.

Ibec (formerly known as The Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation/IBEC) is the largest representative body for employers in Ireland. It was a tripartite body involved in social partnership (1987–2009) but has not negotiated at national level since national wage agreements stopped (it does not represent the employer side in public sector-wide talks, but can represent individual public sector employers, such as universities, in dispute resolution).

More information on representativeness of the main social partner organisations can be found in Eurofound’s representativeness study of the cross-industry social partners or in Eurofound’s sectoral representativeness studies.

Trade unions

About trade union representation

Under article 40.6.1(iii) of the Constitution of Ireland, the right to form a union is enshrined. There is no automatic right to join a trade union – such may confer obligation on the part of a trade union to accept membership, which itself could be unconstitutional. Trade union members are protected against discrimination under various laws, such as the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977, which makes dismissal for reasons of trade union membership or activity automatically unfair. Some public servants are currently excluded from the ability to form trade unions, and instead form representative associations which entail restrictions around striking. These include members of An Garda Siochana (police force) and the Defence Forces.

Trade union membership and trade union density

 

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Source

Trade union density in terms of active employees

33%

32%

31%

29%

27%

26%

24%

CSO QNHS

Trade union membership in 1000

511

504

476

457

429

428

407

CSO QNHS

Main trade union confederations and federations

There is just one trade union confederation in Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Main trade union confederations and federations

Long name

Abbreviation

Members

Involved in collective bargaining

Irish Congress of Trade Unions

ICTU

48 affiliated unions (2017)

These unions have a combined 566,366 members

Yes

Union density is a continuing concern for trade unions, at least in terms of leverage power in the workplace. Trade union density is much higher in the public sector than it is in the private sector; however, there has been a decline in density figures within the public sector in the 2011–2014 period, from 69% to 63% (IRN 35, October 1, 2014, p.3)

In 2013, at the ICTU biennial conference, union realignment was formally adopted with exploratory talks between some unions taking place in 2014. The end product may entail a reduction of the 48 affiliated unions down to 10 or so, delineated according to sectors of work (e.g. services; public administration; manufacturing, etc.). However, the situation is quite complex (IRN 13. April 2, 2014, p. 25) and it may be some years until there are any major developments in respect of union realignment. In the meantime, unions have engaged greater use of shared services, such as using the same buildings, and one law firm for representation (similar to the Thompsons law firm in the UK) has been considered.

Employers’ organisations

About employers’ representation

Employers’ organisations - membership and density

 

2012

2013

2014

Source

Employers’ organisation density in terms of active employees

n.a.

n.a.

n.a.

No national data available, 2008 data from Visser (2014) indicates 60% as employers’ organisation density, as a proportion of employees in employment

Employers’ organisation density in private sector establishments*

n.a.

33%

n.a.

European Company Survey 2013

*Percentage of employees working in an establishment which is a member of any employer organisation that is involved in collective bargaining.

Main employers’ organisations

The main employer organisation is Ibec, which lists some 7,500 companies as members, and has 60 sub-branches specialising in specific sectors. Part of Ibec is the Small Firms Association , which specialises in representing firms employing 50 people or less.

The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) specialises in representing businesses in and associated with the construction industry. It has around 3,000 members.

Irish Small and Medium Enterprises (ISME) is a representative body for companies with less than 250 employees. It is a lobby group, and does not engage in collective bargaining.

The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) represents over 500 US multinational companies in Ireland, acting as a lobby group.

Main employers’ organisations and confederations (2017)

Long name

Abbreviation

Members

Involved in collective bargaining?

Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation

Ibec

7,500 firms

yes

Small Firms Association

SFA

8,000 firms

no

Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association

ISME

8,750 firms

no

American Chamber of Commerce

AmCham

570 firms

no

Construction Industry Federation

CIF

3,000 firms

yes

Source: organisations’ websites, 2017.

Tripartite and bipartite bodies and concertation

Tripartitism is not part of collective bargaining. This has been the case since the end of 2009. However, with continued momentum in the Irish economy since 2013 (though there is less than consensus on how stable the economic environment is in 2015), there is pressure to formulate some form of national system to funnel the increasing wage pressure, as well as other employment-related factors. Yet, while there is little indication on what form of consensus arrangement there could be in the near future, it is not unlikely that a more coherent bipartite social dialogue system (as opposed to a tripartite social partnership model) may emerge, if only to deal with employment-related matters outside of pay rises.

A bipartite body, recently approved by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, is the Low Pay Commission. This Commission is tasked with looking at the major issues around low-paid work and if the national minimum wage merits an increase. It will comprise of an independent chair; three people representing the interests of low paid workers; three people representing the interests of employers (where the NMW is relevant); and two people from an economics, labour market economics, statistics or employment law background.

The social partners sit on the National Economic and Social Council (NESC); however, the NESC concentrates on environmental and housing issues.

In 2016, a new Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) which includes representatives of employers and trade unions with government ministers was established. The aim of the LEEF is to provide a space to discuss areas of shared concern affecting the economy, employment and the labour market on a thematic basis, such as competitiveness, sustainable job creation, labour market standards and equality and gender issues in the workplace.

Main tripartite and bipartite bodies

Name

Type

Level

Issues covered

Low Pay Commission

Bipartite

National

Wages

NESC

Tripartite

National

Housing, environment

LEEF

Tripartite

National

Economy, employment, labour market

Workplace-level employee representation

Regulation, composition and competencies of the bodies

 

Regulation

Composition

Competencies of the body

Involved in company level collective bargaining?

Thresholds/rules when they need to be/can be set up

Works council

Transnational Information and Consultation of Employees Act, 1996 (for European Works Councils)

Employees of relevant undertaking 

Yes

For 1996 Act to apply, employer must have at least 150 employees in Member State

Trade union

Yes, under the Trade Union Acts and Industrial Relations Acts

Trade union membership open to relevant workers (application decided by the trade union)

Yes

No

Employee representation at establishment level

In the figure, we see a comparison between Ireland and European Union for the people with 'Establishment size : All' when asked 'Official structure of employee representation present at establishment'. For the 'Yes' answer, Ireland's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'No' answer, Ireland's score is higher than the European Union score. The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: ECS 2013. Private sector establishments with more than 10 employees. Eurofound data visualisation.

Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining

Bargaining system

Collective bargaining is currently engaged at enterprise/local level. National level bargaining in the private sector was abandoned in 2009, yet the social partners annually agree to a protocol (private sector protocol) for how collective bargaining should be exercised. In the public sector, three major cost reduction agreements – the Croke Park Agreement 2010, the Haddington Road Agreement 2013 and the Lansdowne Road Agreement 2015 – followed negotiations between the public services committee of ICTU and Government representatives.

Collective agreements in the private sector accord with the ‘voluntarist’ approach of industrial relations in Ireland, in that they are not strictly legally binding or enforceable. However, disregard for collective agreements is consistently and strongly advised against by the Labour Court. Non-adherence to agreement terms could give rise to industrial action or disciplinary measures.

The public sector agreements, similarly, are not legally enforceable. However workers have accepted them as preferable to the more severe terms – which are legally enforceable – that apply to those groups of workers who choose to remain outside those agreements. The less favourable terms are enforced through the financial emergency measures in the public interest (FEMPI) laws 2009–2013.

Wage bargaining coverage

Wage bargaining coverage in the private sector, though not calculated to a certain degree, would be at a percentage level higher than trade union density, given collective bargaining can be conducted without union involvement. However, gathering data on non-union company-level bargaining is difficult and a recent, national-level survey of such scope is not in place.

Wage bargaining in the public sector covers the entire sector.

Collective wage bargaining coverage of employees at different levels

Level

 

Source

All levels

58%

2013 – ECS

All, excluding national level

46%

2013 – ECS

Sources: Eurofound, European Company Survey 2013 (ECS), private sector companies with establishments >10 employees (NACE B-S) – multiple answers possible.

Bargaining levels

Collective bargaining in the private sector, at present, is at the local level only. The early stages of reformed sectoral bargaining are underway, following the Ministerial orders to re-establish joint labour committees in early 2014, yet no committee has agreed final terms for a new employment regulation order that has taken effect, with strong resistance present in some sectors, such as hotels.

In the public sector, since 2010 three major agreements have provided the framework for industrial relations for the whole of the public sector: the Croke Park Agreement 2010, the Haddington Road Agreement 2013 and the Landsdowne Road Agreement 2015 (these are incorporated into one continuing public sector agreement).

Levels of collective bargaining 2016

 

National level (Intersectoral)

Sectoral level

Company level

 

Wages

Working time

Wages

Working time

Wages

Working time

Principal or dominant level

 

x

   

X (private sector)

 

Important but not dominant level

   

x (public sector)

x (public sector)

   

Existing level

   

x

     

Articulation

In the private sector, there is only local/enterprise level bargaining in play.

In the public sector, bargaining for the public sector agreements was conducted at a national level (the relevant Government department and the public services committee of the ICTU).

Timing of the bargaining rounds

As there are no national wage agreements in force, there are no bargaining rounds in the private sector. Company level agreements cover periods of between one and three years.

In the public sector, the extant Landsdowne Road Agreement is in place until 2018.

Coordination

The largest union, SIPTU, operates an average 2% pay increase over 12 months strategy in local bargaining in its manufacturing division. This approach is not rigid and depends on other localised factors. Other unions, such as the retail union Mandate, seek the same measures across different employments, namely banded hours arrangements (this is where part-time workers can gain access to a greater level of minimum working hours with service).

Ibec and other employer representative bodies continue to provide advice to members in respect of local bargaining. With the collapse of social partnership national agreements, for example, Ibec advised its members that they should not be obliged to pay the terms of the last national wage deal (a phased 6% pay increase over 2008/2009) due to prevailing financial circumstances – Ibec withdrew from social partnership in 2009.

Extension mechanisms

Employment Regulation Orders in the Security and Contract Cleaning sectors have been established since new legislation was introduced. These Orders set down minimum legally binding terms and conditions for the sector and are extended beyond the bargaining parties to all employees/employers in the sector.

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012 reformed the Joint Labour Committee wage-setting mechanisms, and was commenced on 1 August 2012. The Act provides for the Labour Court to adopt an Employment Regulation Order drawn up by a JLC. The ERO is then given statutory effect by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The Act's provisions include:

1. JLCs have the power to set a basic adult wage rate and two additional higher rates.

2. Companies may seek exemption from paying ERO rates due to financial difficulty.

3. JLCs no longer set Sunday premium rates. A new statutory Code of Practice on Sunday working is to be prepared by the Workplace Relations Commission.

4. When setting wage rates JLCs will have to take into account factors such as competitiveness and rates of employment and unemployment.

Derogation mechanisms

Under the reformed sectoral wage-setting system, a detailed process is established by which individual employers can seek temporary derogation from the sector-level minimum pay and conditions set by both REAs and EROs, on grounds of financial difficulty.

The derogation provisions are identical for both EROs (which cover lower-paid sectors) and REAs (which cover more skilled workers and tend to have higher pay rates). An exemption is to be for a maximum of 24 months and a minimum of three months, with employers barred from seeking exemptions if they have already been granted an exemption in the case of the same workers in the previous five years.

An exemption can be sought, not only if the employer has entered an agreement with the majority of the workers or their representatives, but also without agreement if the Labour Court is satisfied that the employer cannot maintain the terms of the ERO/REA and compliance would result in considerable lay-offs and adverse effects on the survival of the employer’s business.

Trade unions have argued consistently that such individual exemptions would undermine EROs/REAs, by creating an uneven playing field and allowing employers with exemptions to undercut their competitors, who would still be bound by the ERO/REA norms.

To guard against this, the Bill requires the Labour Court to consider whether the exemption would have an adverse effect on employment levels and distort competition in the sector to the detriment of other employers. The Court also has to have regard for the implications of an exemption for the long-term sustainability of the employer’s business.

In addition, the exemption cannot allow an hourly wage which is less than the National Minimum Wage and it must not reduce the pension contributions paid by the employer.

There are currently only two EROs in existence so the derogation mechanisms would not be widely used.

Expiry of collective agreements

In practice, generally, terms of a collective agreement continue to apply upon their expiry, in the period between expiry and the start of a new agreement. Regarding wage bargaining in between pay deals, the parties may agree a pay freeze or a pay pause.

Other aspects of working life addressed in collective agreements

In the recent past, there have been a number of collective agreements focusing on reform of company pension schemes. Many schemes have switched from defined benefit to defined contribution.

In the retail industry, which is marked by part-time working hours, successful company-union negotiations have resulted in banded hours arrangements. This requires employees to be guaranteed more weekly working hours, depending on service. It reduces the potential for inconsistency in working hours. Examples include companies such as Tesco, Penneys, and Marks & Spencer. These deals have been largely negotiated by the Mandate trade union, as well as SIPTU.

Industrial actions and disputes

Industrial actions and disputes

Legal aspects

There is no explicit ‘right to strike’ in Ireland; rather, workers are immune from penalisation if the industrial action they engage in is lawful, in accordance with the Industrial Relations Acts.

According to the Industrial Relations Act 1990, a ‘strike’ is defined as: ‘a cessation of work by any number or body of workers acting in combination, or a concerted refusal or a refusal under a common understanding of any number of workers to continue to work for their employer done as a means of compelling their employer, or to aid other workers in compelling their employer, to accept or not to accept terms or conditions of or affecting employment.’

For the purpose of national statistics measurement, a strike must meet the following criteria for it to be included in CSO industrial dispute statistics: (1) involve a stoppage of work lasting for at least one day; (2) the total time lost is 10 or more person-days.

Unofficial action is where some other form of industrial action has happened but which either did not have formal sanction by a union or is not approved by the union (also known as ‘wildcat’ strikes, which are highly unusual in Ireland) The largest strike of 2014 , at the Greyhound facility in Dublin, began initially as an unofficial strike, as the required seven days’ notice to the employer of action was not served by the time the action commenced. The strike then became official and lasted for another three months. High Court injunctions were used to prevent the striking workers from blocking the entrance to the facility.

Occurrences of workplace ‘sit-ins’ have increased in quantity, and become more visible, since 2011. These usually occur where working has already stopped (for instance, when the business has ceased trading) but where workers involved have not received redundancy compensation or due wages. High profile examples in Ireland include: Vita Cortex, Lagan Brick, Paris Bakery.

Industrial action developments 2012–2015

 

2012

2013

2014

2015

Working days lost per 1000 employees

8,486 (0.5%)

14,965 (0.8%)

44,015 (2.3%)

32,964

Number of strikes

5

12

11

9

Source: CSO: Industrial Disputes statistics.

Dispute resolution mechanisms

Collective dispute resolution mechanisms

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) was established on 1 October 2015 under the Workplace Relations Act 2015. It has taken over the functions of the National Employment Rights Authority, the Labour Relations Commission and the Director of the Equality Tribunal. It has also taken over some of the functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT). However, the appeal functions of the EAT have been transferred to the Labour Court , which is now the single appeal body for all workplace relations appeals.

Conciliation Service

The Conciliation Service helps employers and their employees to resolve disputes when they have failed to reach agreement during their own previous negotiations. An Industrial Relations Officer of the Commission acts as chairperson during meetings to negotiate an agreement. The majority of the cases referred to conciliation are settled. If no agreement is reached then, if the parties wish, the dispute may be referred to the Labour Court.

The Labour Court

The Labour Court investigates collective trade disputes under the Industrial Relations Acts, 1946 to 2015. It can also investigate, at the request of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, trade disputes affecting the public interest, or conduct an enquiry into a trade dispute of special importance and report on its findings.

Individual dispute resolution mechanisms

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) was established on 1 October 2015 under the Workplace Relations Act 2015. It has taken over the functions of the National Employment Rights Authority, the Labour Relations Commission and the Director of the Equality Tribunal. It has also taken over some of the functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT). However, the appeal functions of the EAT have been transferred to the Labour Court , which is now the single appeal body for all workplace relations appeals.

Mediation Service

Mediation is a voluntary process which needs to have both sides agreeing to participate and to work towards resolving the problem. It ensures that all the sides are heard and the participants are involved in finding an agreed solution.

Adjudication Service

The Adjudication Service (formerly the Rights Commissioner Service) investigates disputes, grievances and claims that individuals or small groups of workers make under the employment legislation listed in Schedule 5 of the Workplace Relations Act. Adjudicators are independent in the performance of their duties and have a wide range of functions under this employment legislation.

Under the Workplace Relations Act 2015, the Labour Court is the single appeal body for all workplace relations appeals, including those previously heard by the Employment Appeals Tribunal. A party may appeal the decision of the adjudicator to the Labour Court.

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations are the relationship between the individual worker and their employer. This relationship is shaped by legal regulation and by the outcomes of social partner negotiations over the terms and conditions governing the employment relationship. This section looks into the start and termination of the employment relationship and entitlements and obligations in Ireland.

Start and termination of the employment relationship

Requirements regarding an employment contract

The Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994–2012 requires employers to provide written terms and conditions for an employee within two months of the employment relationship beginning. There is no statutory obligation to provide a written employment contract.

Dismissal and termination procedures

The Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act 1973 provides a minimum period of notice to employees of employment termination depending on length of service.

The Redundancy Payment Acts 1967-2012 provides for statutory obligations in respect of redundancy scenarios, such as a minimum severance payment of two weeks’ pay per year of service, plus one week’s wages. Statutory redundancy applies to employees with two years’ service with the employer and who are over the age of 16.

The Protection of Employment Acts 1977-2007 obliges employers to enter a 30-day period of consultation in respect of redundancies.

The Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Act 2006 requires employers to consult with employees on substantial workplace changes (in companies of 50 employees or more).

The Protection of Employment (Exceptional Collective Redundancies and Related Matters) Act 2007 provides for a Redundancy Panel (from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation) to assess whether a collective redundancy in question is a genuine redundancy situation or an attempt to replace current workers and their terms & conditions with others on less favourable terms.

The Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 is the core protective legislation for employees against unfair dismissals.

See also further information on unemployment benefit provisions in Ireland.

Entitlements and obligations

Parental, maternity and paternity leave

The Family Leave Bill – not yet published – is expected to consolidate all maternity and parental leave rights into one law.

Statutory leave arrangements

Maternity leave

Maximum duration

Total of 40 weeks. Two weeks of leave have to be taken before the end of the week of the baby’s expected birth and four of the weeks have to be taken after the birth.

Reimbursement

26 weeks paid, plus a further 16 weeks unpaid (if certain social insurance contribution conditions are met).

 

Who pays?

Maternity Benefit paid by the State if the worker has sufficient social insurance contributions.

Employers are not obliged to pay employees who are on maternity leave but some may pay employees.

Legal basis

Maternity Protection Acts 1994–2004

Parental leave

Maximum duration

18 weeks unpaid. Both parents have equal and separate entitlement to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave per child (for a child up to the age of 8).

Reimbursement

unpaid

Who pays?

unpaid

Legal basis

Parental Leave Acts 1998–2006

Paternity leave

Maximum duration

2 weeks

Reimbursement

A worker may qualify for Paternity Benefit from the Department of Social Protection if they have sufficient PRSI contributions.

Who pays?

State pays paternity benefit if the worker has sufficient social insurance contributions.

Employers are not obliged to pay employees who are on paternity leave but some may pay employees.

Legal basis

Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016

Sick leave

There is no legal requirement on private sector employers to pay their employees sick pay. Company sick pay schemes are more common in larger employments.

Employees in the public sector have access to the State’s sick pay scheme, outlined in the Public Service Management (Sick Leave) Regulations 2014. This provides for sick leave with full pay for a period of three months, followed by leave on half pay for another three months over a four-year rolling period. Within the regulations there is provision for a critical illness protocol to permit those suffering from serious illness/injury (according to criteria) to receive six months’ full pay and six months’ half pay.

In the 2014 budget, the State Illness Benefit payment waiting period was changed from three days to six days. Those on sick leave have to be off work for six days before they can be eligible for the payment. Private sector sick pay schemes have generally had the same waiting period.

Retirement age

There is no general automatic retirement age in Ireland. The State pension age is now paid at age 66, and this will rise to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028 for both women and men. Some occupations have set retirement ages, such the police force/An Garda Siochana (age 60) and firefighters. The statutory minimum retirement age in the public sector (for those who have joined since 2004) is 65 (except An Garda and firefighters). Judges must retire at 70 or 72, depending on how long they have served.

Pay

Pay

Pay: For workers, the reward for work and main source of income; for employers, a cost of production and focus of bargaining and legislation. This section looks into minimum wage setting in Ireland and guides the reader to further material on collective wage bargaining.

Minimum wages

The National Minimum Wage is €9.25 per hour since 1 January 2017 under the National Minimum Wage Act. This applies to employees aged 18 or over (sub-minimum rates for workers under 18). Wage-setting mechanisms, such JLC/EROs and REAs, can also set legally binding minimum pay rates.

Under the 2015 National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Act, 2015, the Low Pay Commission shall make such recommendations to the Minister that are designed to set a minimum wage that is fair and sustainable, and when appropriate, is adjusted incrementally, and that, over time, is progressively increased to assist as many low-paid workers as is reasonably practicable without creating significant adverse consequences for employment or competitiveness.

For more information regarding the level and development of minimum wages, please see Eurofound’s topical update on statutory minimum wage in the EU 2017 or visit Eurostat.

Collectively agreed pay outcomes

For more detailed information on the most recent outcomes in terms of collectively agreed pay, please consult Eurofound’s collectively wage bargaining portal.

Working time

Working time

Working time: ‘Any period during which the worker is working, at the employer’s disposal and carrying out his activities or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice’ (Directive 2003/88/EC). This section briefly summarises regulation and issues regarding working time, overtime, part-time work as well as working time flexibility in Ireland.

Working time regulation

The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 sets out the average maximum working week cannot exceed 48 hours. The average is calculated over a reference period of, usually, four months. There are specific exemptions for trainee doctors and road transport workers from the working time provisions, including rest breaks, under select statutory instruments (S.I. 494/2004 & S.I. 20/1998 respectively).

In the public sector, the minimum working week is 37 hours, as per the Haddington Road Agreement.

For more detailed information on working time (including annual leave, statutory and collectively agreed working time), please consult Eurofound’s report on Working time developments in the 21st century: Work duration and its regulation.

Overtime regulation

There are statutory regulations for overtime and its inclusion in the maximum working week. Overtime provisions vary from company to company. The standard working week was defined as 39 hours in 1987 Programme for National Recovery agreement, but there is no rule/law that says overtime is defined as working in excess of 39 hours in one week. Neither is there a statutory obligation on the part of an employer to pay an overtime rate. Overtime rates, if applicable, are either detailed in employment contracts or in collective agreements. A common overtime rate, at least for the first few hours of overtime working, is 1.5 times the hourly basic rate.

Part-time work

Part-time working is regulated by the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001. This provides protection for part-time workers against unfavourable treatment compared to full-time workers.

Part-time work is defined in law as: ‘an employee whose normal hours of work are less than the normal hours of work of an employee who is a comparable employee in relation to him or her.’

The proportion of part-time working has slightly decreased between 2011 and 2016, from 22.3% to 20.9%. The percentage of part-time workers in 2016 is slightly above EU28 average for all categories.

Persons employed part-time in Ireland and EU28 (% of total employment)

 

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Total - EU28

18.2

18.6

19.0

19.0

19.0

18.9

Total - IE

22.3

22.6

22.7

22.1

21.3

20.9

Women - EU28

31.0

31.4

31.8

31.7

31.5

31.4

Women - IE

34.3

34.0

34.2

33.6

32.9

32.1

Men - EU28

7.4

7.7

8.1

8.2

8.2

8.2

Men - IE

11.7

12.5

12.7

12.3

11.3

11.1

Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey [lfsi_pt_a] – Persons employed part-time (20 to 64 years of age) – total and by sex.

Ireland has a high-proportion of female workers that work part time. According to Ibec in Labour Market Participation of Women (2016):

‘While working part-time can reflect personal choices, the high share of female part-time employment may also stem from multiple constraints, including family and care-related reasons. There is also an additional divergence between females who are married and those who are single. Currently, participation rates of married women are 3.5% lower than those who are single. While the pattern of gender imbalance in labour market participation is sustained across Europe, Ireland features among the lowest performers for females in the age group “thirty and above”, six percentage points lower than their UK counterparts for women aged 25, and 26th out of 32 OECD economies. This time period coincides with key childbearing years (30.2 being the average age for women having their first child in 2013 and 32.1 being the average age of women giving birth). When the impact of children on the labour market participation of men and women is examined the difference is quite evident.’

Night work

The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 sets out that night work is work carried out between midnight and 7am the following day. A ‘night worker’ is an employee who normally works at least 3 hours of his or her daily working time during night time and the number of hours worked by whom during night time, in each year, equals or exceeds 50% of the total number of hours worked by him or her during that year.

Shift work

The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 sets out that shift work is any method of organising work in shifts whereby workers succeed each other at the same work station according to a certain pattern, including a rotating pattern, and which may be continuous or discontinuous, entailing the need for workers to work at different times over a given period of days or weeks. A shift worker is any worker whose work schedule is part of shift work.

Weekend work

The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 sets out special arrangements for Sunday working. If an employee works on Sunday, they are entitled to extra pay to be agreed between the worker and their employer. Under the Organisation of Working Time Act, if there is no agreement about pay, the employer must give one or more of the following for Sunday working:

  • A reasonable allowance
  • A reasonable pay increase
  • Reasonable paid time off work

Rest and breaks

The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 sets out the following:

Breaks

Employees are entitled to a break of 15 minutes after a 4 and a half hour work period. If they work more than 6 hours they are entitled to a break of 30 minutes, which can include the first 15-minute break. There is no entitlement to be paid during these breaks and they are not considered part of working time.

Shop employees who work more than 6 hours and whose hours of work include 11.30am–2.30pm are entitled to a one-hour consecutive break which must occur during those hours.

Rest Period

The definition of a rest period is any time that is not working time. The rest periods set out in the Act are as follows:

(a) 11 consecutive hours rest in any period of 24 hours. In addition an employee should get 24 consecutive hours rest in any period of 7 days and this should normally follow on from one of the 11-hour rest periods already mentioned, or

(b) As an alternative the employer can give two 24-hour rest periods in the week that follows one in which the employee did not get the entitlement described in (a) above.

Unless the contract provides otherwise, the 24-hour rest period referred to above should include a Sunday.

Working time flexibility

In the private sector, working time flexibility arrangements are agreed and conducted at company level.

In the public sector, there is a provision on work sharing and flexible working arrangements as part of the Haddington Road Agreement (HRA) (HRA section 3.15-3.18: ‘work sharing’ & ‘flexitime’)

Do you have fixed start and finishing time in your work?

In the figure, we see a comparison between Ireland and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Do you have fixed starting and finishing times in your work?'. For the 'No' answer, Ireland's score is higher than the European Union score. For the 'Yes' answer, Ireland's score is lower than the European Union score. Data is based on question 39d from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015).The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working conditions survey.

Health and well-being

Health and well-being

Maintaining health and well-being should be a high priority for workers and employers alike. Health is an asset closely associated with a person’s quality of life and longevity, as well as their ability to work. A healthy economy depends on a healthy workforce: organisations can experience loss of productivity through the ill-health of their workers. This section looks into psychosocial risks and health and safety in Ireland.

Health and safety at work

The drop in workplace accidents in 2009 can be partly explained by the rapid shrinkage in the construction industry; employment in this industry fell by 37% between 2008 and 2009. The decline in construction employment continued through to 2012 but not as sharply. (Employment in construction has been growing year on year since 2013). The increase in workplace accidents in 2010 may be partly explained by the environment of general cutbacks and depleted resources, with health and safety monitoring suffering as a result.

Accidents at work, with four days’ absence or more – working days lost

 

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

All accidents

12,967

7,751

11,422

11,101

9,794

13,444

13,103

Percent change on previous year

-

-40.2

47.4

-2.8

-11.8

37.3

-2.5

Per 1,000 employees

7.4

4.8

7.3

7.2

6.4

8.6

8.3

Source: Eurostat, [hsw_mi01] and [lfsa_eegaed].

Psychosocial risks

The Employment Equality Acts provides that employers must prevent harassment in the workplace. The Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005 outlines an extensive array of workplace measures that are designed to maintain the health of employees in the workplace. Section 8 of the SHWW Act sets out measures that employers must observe as part of their duty of care towards employees.

The Health & Safety Authority (HSA) provides guidance for employers on work-related stress and has produced a Code of Practice on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work.

Work intensity: Do you have enough time to get the job done?

In the figure, we see a comparison between Ireland and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Do you have enough time to get the job done?'. For the 'Always or most of the time' answer, Ireland's score is higher than the European Union score. For the 'Rarely or never' answer, Ireland's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'Sometimes' answer, Ireland's score is lower than the European Union score. Data is based on question 61g from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015).The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working conditions survey.

Skills, learning and employability

Skills, learning and employability

Skills are the passport to employment; the better skilled an individual, the more employable they are. Good skills also tend to secure better-quality jobs and better earnings. This section briefly summarises the Austrian system for ensuring skills and employability and looks into the extent of training.

National system for ensuring skills and employability

The National Competitiveness Council was established in 2000, under the Partnership 2000 national agreement, to ensure ongoing national competitiveness in Ireland. This encompasses ‘education and training, entrepreneurship and innovation, Ireland’s economic and technological infrastructure and the taxation and regulatory framework.’ The Council reports to the Department of An Taoiseach (prime minister). It comprises of representatives from employer and trade union sides, as well as one rep from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation.

The Expert Group on Skills Needs was established in 1997 and ‘advises the Irish Government on current and future skills needs of the economy and on other labour market issues that impact on Ireland’s enterprise and employment growth. It has a central role in ensuring that labour market needs for skilled workers are anticipated and met.’ It comprises of civil servants and representatives from the employer and trade union sides.

Forfas was Ireland’s policy advisory board for enterprise, trade, science, technology and innovation, but has since been dissolve, with its functions integrated into the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation.

Training

SOLAS (formerly FAS) is the further education and training authority in Ireland. It is responsible for funding, planning and co-ordinating training and further education programmes.

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) is responsible for maintaining the ten-level NFQ (National Framework of Qualifications). It also is an awarding body and sets standards for awards in the NFQ. QQI validates education and training programmes and makes extensive awards in the Further Education and Training sector including in the Education and Training Boards.

Training: Have you had any on the job training in the past year?

In the figure, we see a comparison between Ireland and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Have you had on-the-job training in the last 12 months?'. For the 'No' answer, Ireland's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'Yes' answer, Ireland's score is higher than the European Union score. Data is based on question 65c from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015). The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working conditions survey.

Work organisation

Work organisation

Work organisation underpins economic and business development and has important consequences for productivity, innovation and working conditions. Eurofound research finds that some types of work organisation are associated with a better quality of work and employment. Therefore, developing or introducing different forms of work organisation are of particular interest because of the expected effects on productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of companies, as well as on workers’ working conditions. Ongoing research by Eurofound, based on EurWORK, the European Working Conditions Survey and the European Company Survey, monitors developments in work organisation.

For Ireland, the European Company Survey 2013 shows that between 2010 and 2013 47% % of establishments with 10 or more employees reported changes in the use of technology, 35% introduced changes in ways to coordinate and allocate the work to workers, and 24% saw changes in their working time arrangements.

Work organisation: Are you able to choose or change your methods of work?

In the figure, we see a comparison between Ireland and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Are you able to choose or change your methods of work?'. For the 'No' answer, Ireland's score is higher than the European Union score. For the 'Yes' answer, Ireland's score is lower than the European Union score. Data is based on question 54b from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015). The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey.

Equality and non-discrimination at work

Equality and non-discrimination at work

The Employment Equality Acts 1998–2011 outlaw discrimination on nine grounds: gender; civil status; family status; age; race; religion; disability; sexual orientation; membership of the traveller community.

The Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission is the State body responsible for equality and non-discrimination at work (formerly the Equality Authority).

Equal pay and gender pay gap

The Employment Equality Acts 1998–2011 outlaw pay discrimination based on gender.

A Morgan McKinley Report on the Gender Pay Gap in Ireland (2016) found that:

  • The average gender pay gap in Ireland in 2016 was 20%.
  • The average gender pay gap is significantly higher for male professionals in Dublin than it is in Cork or other regional locations. The gender pay gap is higher in Dublin due to two main reasons: firstly, the dominant industries in each of the cities and secondly the location of senior management.
  • Financial services is the main professional industry in Ireland with 19% of all professionals employed in this sector. It is also a sector that has the highest gender pay gap of 29% and has a greater proportion of employers and positions in Dublin than any other location nationally. The most represented industry in Cork is technology & telecommunications with a gender ay gap of 7% in this sector.
  • The gender pay gap increases along with the education level attained. The gap increases from the lowest overall earnings gap of 10% for employees holding a BSc degree up to 33% for executive MBA holders. That represents a gender pay gap of €32,500 annually compared to €11,500 (22%) difference between men and women with no degree.
  • There is a narrowing of the gender pay gap for women who make it to the executive level; They are paid almost the same as men at the same level (1% pay gap). That is largely compensated by the fact that there are less women at the executive level than in any other position (only 24%).
  • The gender pay gap widens with years of experience from 12% for 0–5 years’ experience through to 28% for 15+ years’ experience.

Quota regulations

Under the Disability Act 2005, public bodies are required to recruit at least 3% of their workforce from among people who have a disability. For the years 2011–2013, this 3% target for the public sector overall was surpassed, according to the data gathered by the National Disability Authority.

The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 requires 40% of political party candidates to be women. If they do not meet this quote, their funding will be reduced. The target for subsequent general elections is therefore 40% women candidates.

Bibliography

Bibliography

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