Living and working in Ireland

27 April 2023

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 EU Member States, which included the UK prior to its withdrawal from the European Union on 31 January 2020. 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 are the EU’s policy priorities for a European Green Deal, a digital future, an economy that works for people, promoting and strengthening European democracy. To help repair the economic and social damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU leaders have also agreed on a recovery plan that will lead the way out of the crisis and lay the foundations for a modern and more sustainable Europe. The EU’s long-term budget, coupled with NextGenerationEU, the temporary instrument designed to boost the recovery, will be the largest stimulus package ever financed through the EU budget to help rebuild a post-COVID-19 Europe. 

The European Semester provides a framework for the coordination of economic policies across the EU. It allows Member States to discuss their economic and budget plans and monitor progress at specific times throughout the year. For 2022, the European Semester resumes it broad economic and employment policy coordination, while further adapting in line with the implementation requirements of  the Recovery and Resilience Facility. As part of this, Member States are encouraged to submit national reform programmes and stability/convergence programmes that will set out their economic and fiscal policy plans, as in previous Semester cycles. The main change in the 2022 cycle will be that the national reform programme will play a dual role. Besides its role for the European Semester, it will also fulfil one of the two bi-annual reporting requirements of Member States under the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

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

Living and working in Ireland and COVID-19

COVID-19 continues to have a profound impact on people’s lives across the globe, with major implications for quality of life and work. Eurofound has taken a multipronged response to the pandemic, adapting its research focus in a variety of ways. A new database of national-level policy responses, EU PolicyWatch, collates information on measures taken by government and social partners, as well as company practices, aiming to cushion the effects of the crisis. Eurofound's unique e-survey, Living, working and COVID-19, provides an insight into the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives across the EU, with the aim of helping policymakers to bring about an equal recovery from the crisis. Five rounds of the survey have been carried out to date: in April 2020 when most Member States were in lockdown, in July 2020 when society and economies were slowly reopening, in March 2021 as countries dealt again with various levels of lockdown and vaccine rollout, a panel survey in October/November 2021 to track developments since the start of the pandemic, and in March–May 2022, charting the latest developments and looking at how life has changed over the past two years. The survey investigates the impact on quality of life and society, democracy and trust, working and teleworking, the financial situation and security of people, the quality of public services, support measures and vaccinations during COVID-19. Findings for each country and a range of data pages are available.

Explore our data pages by country to find out more on the situation in Ireland.


The country page gives access to Eurofound's most recent survey data and news, directly related to Ireland:

Research carried out prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on 31 January 2020, and published subsequently, may include data relating to the 28 EU Member States. Following this date, research only takes into account the 27 EU Member States (EU28 minus the UK), unless specified otherwise.

Survey results

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

Recent developments

Eurofound contacts in Ireland

Correspondents in Ireland

Correspondents report on topics related to developments in the country's 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 Management Board members from Ireland

Eurofound's Management Board is made up of representatives of the social partners and national governments of all Member States, European Commission representatives and an independent expert appointed by the European Parliament. Read more

Marcus Breathnach Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Maeve McElwee Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC)

David Joyce 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

Living in Ireland

Quality of life

Quality of life

Ireland ranks well in most indicators for quality of life, particularly in relation to mental wellbeing, ability to make ends meet, sense of purpose in life and optimism. Overall there has been an increase in life satisfaction since 2011.

Ireland has the highest self-reported levels of health in the EU, with 47% of respondents stating they were in very good health, significantly more than the EU average of 24%. Ireland ranks highest in Europe in the WHO-5 mental wellbeing index, and was higher in 2016 than in 2011 and 2007. The proportion of people at risk of depression is 15%, well below the EU average of 22%. Ireland also ranks highest in terms of sense of purpose in life: 90% feel what they do in life is worthwhile compared with 78% on average in the EU. It is also among the countries with the highest reported rates of optimism from respondents about their own, as well as their children’s future.

There has been a marked decrease in the number of people in Ireland that report difficulty in making ends meet; 27% of respondents reported difficulty making ends meet in 2016, much lower than the EU average of 39% and significantly down on the 43% of respondents that reported difficulty making ends meet in Ireland in 2011. Despite this, Ireland is among the seven EU countries where levels of difficulty in making ends meet are still above pre-crisis levels.

Life satisfactionMean (1-10)
Taking all things together on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy would you say you are?Mean (1-10)
Optimism about own futureAgree & strongly agree---81%
Optimism about children’s or grandchildren’s futureAgree & strongly agree---79%
Take part in sports or physical exerciseAt least once a week--62%55%
In general, how is your health?Very good-47%38%47%
WHO-5 mental wellbeing indexMean (1-100)-676470
Making ends meetWith some difficulty, difficulty, and great difficulty22%22%43%27%
I feel I am free to decide how to live my lifeStrongly agree--28%26%
I find it difficult to deal with important problems that come up in my lifeAgree & strongly agree---22%
When things go wrong in my life, it generally takes me a long time to get back to normalAgree & strongly agree---24%

Work-life balance

Work-life balance

(At least several times a month)   

I have come home from work too tired

to do some of the household jobs which need to be done


It has been difficult for me to fulfil my family responsibilities

because of the amount of time I spend on the job


I have found it difficult to concentrate at work

because of my family responsibilities


Quality of society

Quality of society

Ireland also ranked well on the quality of society indicators, particularly in relation to relatively low socio-economic and racial/ethnic tensions in society. There has been a significant decrease in reported tensions between rich and poor in Ireland since 2011: 19% reported a tension between rich and poor in 2016, down from 28% in 2011. This brings Ireland well under the EU average of 29%.

Ireland also ranks as one of the countries in Europe with the lowest reported tensions between different racial and ethnic groups; this is despite a general increase in tensions in Europe and a marked increase in some countries. Reported tensions between ethnic groups in Ireland has been decreasing consistently since 2003 and now stands at 21%, below the EU average of 41%. The reported tension between people with different sexual orientations is lower in Ireland than in most other EU countries: 14% of people say there is a lot of tension, compared with 20% on average in the EU.

Social exclusion indexMean (1-5)-
Trust in peopleMean (1-10)
Involvement in unpaid voluntary work% "at least once a month"--16%16%
Tension between poor and rich people% reporting 'a lot of tension'30%18%28%19%
Tension between different racial and ethnic groups% reporting 'a lot of tension'47%34%28%21%
I feel safe when I walk alone after darkStrongly agree---39%

Quality of public services

Quality of public services

Quality ratings for seven public services

Note: scale of 1-10, Source: EQLS 2016.

The reported quality of public services in Ireland has increased or remained consistent with 2007 and 2011 levels in most areas. Education and state pension systems were rated positively, coming in at above EU averages.

However, the cost-related difficulties in accessing some public services, notably those related to health and childcare, are amongst the highest in the EU. In the case of childcare this was reflected in the fact that the use of a childminder or a childcare facility, as opposed to family members, is less common in Ireland than in most of the EU: these services are used by 25% people in Ireland compared with 34% on average.

While ratings for quality of GP services are high, access is an issue - 38% of respondents cited cost as a factor making it difficult to see a GP, compared to 16% in EU on average. A particular finding has been that cost was reported as a problem by 46% of people from uppermiddle incomes suggesting rather uneven levels of issues in accessing healthcare in society. Nevertheless, there is a much higher rate of satisfaction for primary care compared to other forms of care than in other EU Member States. Other notable findings for healthcare were that Ireland ranked below the EU average in terms of e-consultations and prescriptions.

The only area in which there has been an overall decline in perceived quality since the 2011 survey is that of social housing.

Health servicesMean (1-10)
Education systemMean (1-10)
Public transportMean (1-10)
Childcare servicesMean (1-10)-
Long-term care servicesMean (1-10)--5.35.9
Social housingMean (1-10)--5.65.0
State pension systemMean (1-10)

Working life in Ireland


  • Author: Brian Sheehan and Colman Higgins
  • Institution: IRN Publishing
  • Published on: Monday, August 9, 2021

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.


Highlights – Working life in 2022

Highlights – Working life in 2022

Author: Andy Prendergast
Institution: Industrial Relations News Publishing Ltd
Highlights updated on: 27 April 2023
Working paper: Ireland: Developments in working life in 2022

The year 2022 was a remarkable one for working life in Ireland. The return of inflation and a tight labour market led to a keener focus on wages, while many new employment laws were passed. Employment reached a record high of over 2.5 million, while the state took in a record high of €82.2 billion in tax receipts.

Despite strong inflationary pressures throughout most of 2022, private sector pay remained largely stable, with a growing focus on other benefits. These include new forms of paid leave and tax-free vouchers for employees. Disturbance as a result of industrial action has increased since 2021, and there were a few pay-related strikes in 2022 where inflation was certainly a factor. Nevertheless, there was no widespread impact of inflation on the course of strike activity throughout the year.

However, inflation did lead to the revision of the public service agreement ‘Building Momentum’, which was boosted and extended following talks held at the Workplace Relations Commission during the summer. The government and trade unions agreed a new deal that added another 6.5% of pay to the pockets of public servants, above what was agreed in 2020.

Perhaps the most significant development in industrial relations in 2022 was the publication of the proposals from the Labour Employer Economic Forum High Level Group on Collective Bargaining on reforming collective bargaining in Ireland. The group produced four key proposals that are now being considered for legislation in 2023. In addition to this work, the Directive on Adequate Minimum Wages, which includes an obligation to promote collective bargaining, was adopted. Structural and legislative changes in collective bargaining will be even more topical in 2023. However, the connection of collective bargaining with the green transition remains limited and has not had much of an impact, apart from the focal areas of the Just Transition programme for the Midlands region.

It was also arguably one of the busiest years in employment legislation, with the enactment of major laws such as the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act, the Sick Pay Act, the Tips and Gratuities Act, regulations supporting the Gender Pay Gap Reporting Act, and new regulations on predictable and flexible working. These laws form part of the government’s legislative agenda but also incorporate obligations under EU directives. In 2022, the government formally adopted its plan to increase the national minimum wage to a national living wage, set at two-thirds of the median level of earnings. This rise to a living wage will take several years to achieve, but the greatest increase in the minimum wage, to €11.30 per hour, was agreed in September, taking effect from 1 January 2023.

New legal rights around requesting flexible and remote working were still working their way through the legislative system by the end of 2022, and more developments in employment law are expected in 2023.

Key figures

Key figures

Comparative figures on working life in Ireland




% (point) change 2012 –2019

% (point) change 2019 –2020










GDP per capita









Unemployment rate – total









Unemployment rate – women









Unemployment rate – men









Unemployment rate – youth









Employment rate – total









Employment rate – women









Employment rate – men









Employment rate – youth









Source: Eurostat – Real GDP per capita (chain linked volumes [2010], in EUR) and percentage change 2012–2020 (both based on sdg_08_10). Unemployment rate by sex and age – annual average (15–74 years, % active population) and youth (15–24 years) % [une_rt_a]; Employment rate by sex and age – annual average (15–64 years, unit % total population, employment indicator active population) % [lfsi_emp_a].



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 were 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.

The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018 was passed in 2018. The Bill (which comes into force from 1st March 2019):

  • prohibits the use of zero-hour contracts, save in limited circumstances;
  • provides for the provision of minimum payments in relation to low-paid employees who are required to be available to work but are not called into work;
  • creates a new entitlement to banded hour contracts;
  • obliges employers to notify employees in writing of 5 core terms of employment within 5 days of starting employment.

Employee Leave:

  • Parental leave : Parental Leave Acts 1998 -2019: provides for a period of unpaid parental leave for parents; includes a limited right to paid leave in circumstances of serious family illness (‘force majeure’).
  • Parent’s leave : Parent’s Leave and Benefit Act 2019: provides for 2 weeks paid parent’s leave for a child born or adopted on or after 1 November 2019.

Industrial relations context

The industrial relations system has changed significantly over the past 22 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.

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. Trade unions can bring a case on behalf on members who are not recognised by an employer and secure a binding recommendation on terms and conditions. Where these can be shown to be out of line with similar employments in that sector, the Court is likely to recommend improvements. Ultimately, such a recommendation is legally enforceable. However, since the legislation was enacted, trade unions have taken just four such cases to the Labour Court, securing benefits for members in two of these cases. Their reluctance to use the legislation more extensively has been explained by the fact that comparability criteria under the revised 2015 legislation are quite challenging. In addition, the length of time a case may take to bring to finality can drain trade union resources more readily, compared to using traditional dispute resolution channels. (See Dobbins et al in Bibliography)

The Competition Amendment Act, 2017 provides that trade unions may apply to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to permit certain groups of self-employed workers to act collectively. The Minister will make his/her decision, after consultation with other Government Ministers, and any other person or body the Minister considers ought to be consulted.

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 seven tripartite centralised agreements or social pacts were negotiated. These centralised pacts covered not only pay, but a range of social and economic issues. 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 the private sector.

Meanwhile, in the public sector, successive bi-lateral national collective wage deals have been agreed between the government and the public service unions (the ‘Croke Park’ agreement (2010-2013) ‘Haddington Road’ agreement’ (2013-2015); the ‘Lansdowne Road’ agreement’ (2015-2017) and the ‘Public Service Stability Agreement’ (2018-2020). In December 2020, the parties negotiated the proposed ‘Building Momentum’ agreement (2021-2022), which a number of the larger public service unions advised their members to accept.

The ‘Lansdowne Road’ agreement commenced a gradual process of pay restoration carried through in subsequent agreements. These bilateral collective bargaining agreements are viewed by some as a form of shadow social partnership in the public sector.

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. However, LEEF does not deal with pay issues.

Direct social dialogue, involving government and the lead national-level employer (Ibec) and union bodies (ICTU), was especially useful during 2020 in respect of measures to meet some of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. ICTU and Ibec were influential in the design of pandemic-related payments, such as the basic Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS). The PUP payment was paid directly by the State to those persons whose places of employment were temporarily shut down by ‘lockdown’ measures. The main payment at the outset was €350 per week, later tapered downward as the economy opened up, before being restored back to higher levels as restrictions on the economy were re-imposed. The TWSS payments subsidised workers income in cases where business turnover was impacted by more than 25-30%, the employer expected to ‘top up’ the gap between the State payment and what the worker earned pre-Covid. Importantly, this measure helped to maintain the link between employers and their workers in firms, where the reduction in business – in ‘normal’ times – would have led to redundancies.

The social partners played an even more direct role in devising a ‘return to work protocol’ ahead of the economy opening up temporarily in the summer of 2020, involving the Health & Safety Authority in the carrying out of inspections. The protocol also provided a role for worker representative(s), in consultation with employers, in ensuring the proper application of the protocol measures at the level of the business.

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 Enterprise, Trade & Employment (formerly 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 Low Pay Commission, and is responsible for discussion around the national minimum wage rate. (In 2019, the Low Pay Commission recommended increasing the minimum wage by 25 cent per hour, from €9.55 to €9.80)

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 (‘Croke Park’, ‘Haddington Road’, ‘Lansdowne Road’, Public Services Stability Agreement and – in December, 2020 - the proposed ‘Building Momentum’ agreement) with the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions with the assistance of the Workplace Relations Commission. These agreements also apply to non-ICTU bodies such as associations representing the Gardaí (the police) and the Defence Forces, as well as very small number of non-ICTU trade unions, representing hospital consultants, dentists and psychiatric nurses.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) 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. It also played a role in monitoring the ‘return to work protocol’ during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, undertaking workplace inspections.


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 bilateral 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, 1987-2009). 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.

The Government, as an employer, also consults with a small number of non-ICTU unions and associations that represent Gardaí (police) and the defence forces. However, there has been considerable dissatisfaction expressed by these non-ICTU groups regarding their lack of direct involvement in negotiations, in particular from those representing Gardaí and the defence forces.

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). Ibec has a policy advocacy role as well as representing members in day-to-day industrial relations in the WRC and the Labour Court. Ibec also lobbies on behalf of small firms through its Small Firms Association (SFA).

The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) represents employers in the construction industry, acting as both as a policy advocate as well as representing members in industrial relations fora.

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

The American Chambers of Commerce in Ireland (Amcham) articulates members' interest in the formulation stage of EU and Irish employment law, keeping its membership informed of changes in law “which may directly affect the way they do business”. It does not engage in collective bargaining.

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 toform 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









Trade union density in terms of active employees







OECD/AIAS ICTWSS Database 2021


Trade union density in terms of active employees







CSO Labour Force Survey

Trade union membership in 1000







OECD/AIAS ICTWSS Database 2021


Trade union membership in 1000







CSO Labour Force Survey

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



Involved in collective bargaining

Irish Congress of Trade Unions


44 affiliated unions (2018)

These unions have a combined 527,048 members


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 was 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) perhaps reflecting the fact that public service incomes were cut between 2010-2013 in the wake of the global financial crisis. The union density in the public service has stabilised since 2014.

Overall, trade union density has remained largely unchanged since 2014/2015, while membership numbers rose - due to the large rise in employment over the 2014-2019 period. Increases in the female workforce and female trade union membership account for much of rise in employment and maintenance of trade union density.

In 2011, a report of the Commission on the Trade Union Movement was published. This report recommended that affiliate unions of ICTU, working in common sectors should cooperate more closely and explore possible amalgamations and mergers, in order to increase their capacity to deliver for members and also their wider impact. In 2013, at the ICTU biennial conference, union realignment was formally adopted with exploratory talks between some unions taking place in 2014. A major merger between three public service trade unions Impact, the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU) and the Civil Public & Services Union (CPSU), took effect from January 1st, 2018. This lead to the formation of a new trade union with 80,000 members, known as Fórsa. However, the hopes for further major mergers or amalgamations, as envisaged by the Commission, have not been fulfilled. It is unlikely that there will be further major reductions and amalgamations of ICTU affiliated unions in the medium term, though there may be some level of amalgamation involving smaller trade unions, for practical financial reasons.

Employers’ organisations

About employers’ representation

Employers’ organisations – membership and density








Employers’ organisation density in terms of active employees*






OECD/AIAS ICTWSS Database 2021

Employers’ organisation density in private sector establishments**






European Company Survey (ECS) 2019

* No national administrative data available: Ibec indicates it represents 70% as employees as a proportion of employees in employment ** 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 (2019)

Long name



Involved in collective bargaining?

Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation


7,500 firms


Small Firms Association


8,000 firms


Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association


8,750 firms


American Chamber of Commerce


570 firms


Construction Industry Federation


3,000 firms


Source: organisations’ websites, 2017.

Tripartite and bipartite bodies and concertation

Tripartism 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 coordinate policy on employment-related factors and on broader social and economic issues. ICTU and Ibec have called for the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) process to be enhanced and expanded to involve both actors in areas of mutual concern. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic provided the backdrop for the involvement of both representative bodies to engage directly with government on devising ‘return to work’ protocol and the development of pandemic payment supports for workers and businesses. Ibec and ICTU continue to press for deeper social dialogue. The new three-party coalition Government (Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Green Party) with Micheál Martin elected Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in June 2020, promised to develop social dialogue further, committing to establish a new ‘social dialogue unit’ within the Taoiseach’s department.

A bipartite body, 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 comprises 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. It played a major role in setting out the social and economic backdrop for successive social partnership agreements (1987-2009). It was retained despite the collapse of social partnership in 2009.

In 2016, the 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.

In 2015, the Government instituted the National Economic Dialogue (NED), a formalised process of consultation and debate with a wide range of societal interests, including Ibec and ICTU, to enhance the whole-of-year budget development process.

Main tripartite and bipartite bodies




Issues covered

Low Pay Commission







Housing, environment




Economy, employment, labour market

Workplace-level employee representation

Regulation, composition and competencies of the bodies




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


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

For the 2006 Act to apply there must be > 50 employees in the undertaking. 10% of employees must ‘trigger’ the Act.

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)



Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining

The central concern of employment relations is the collective governance of work and employment. This section looks into collective bargaining in Ireland.

Bargaining system

Collective bargaining in the private sector currently occurs at enterprise/local level. National level bargaining in the private sector was abandoned in 2009 after the breakdown of social partnership, yet the social partners annually agree to a protocol (private sector protocol) for how collective bargaining should be exercised. In the public sector, four major cost reduction agreements – the Croke Park Agreement 2010, the Haddington Road Agreement 2013, the Lansdowne Road Agreement 2015 and the Public Services Stability Agreement (2018-2020), followed negotiations between the public services committee of ICTU and Government representatives. A fifth, ‘Building Momentum’, 2021-2022, was set to be formally agreed in February 2021.

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 2009–2015.

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 from different sources


% (year)


All levels

34 (2017)

2021 – OECD/AIAS ICTWSS Database 2021

All levels

58 (2013)

2013 – ECS

All levels

27 (2019)

2019 – ECS

All levels

100 (2010)

2010 – SES

All levels

100 (2014)

2014 – SES

All levels

100 (2018)

2018 – SES

Sources: Eurofound, European Company Survey 2013/2019 (ECS), private sector companies with establishments >10 employees (NACE B–S) – multiple answers possible; Eurostat, Structure of Earnings Survey (SES), companies >10 employees (NACE B-SxO), single answer for each local unit: more than 50% of employees covered by such an agreement – online dataset codes: [EARN_SES10_01], [EARN_SES14_01], [EARN_SES18_01] (Percentage of employees working in local units where more than 50% of the employees are covered under a collective pay agreement against the total number of employees in the scope of the survey); OECD/AIAS ICTWSS Database 2021.

Bargaining levels

Collective bargaining in the private sector is at present mainly at local level. However, the early stages of reformed sectoral bargaining are well under way, following the Ministerial orders to re-establish joint labour committees in early 2014. A new Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) covering rates of pay, sick pay, and pensions across the construction sector was signed into legislation on 19 October 2017, following acceptance by the Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation of a recommendation from the Labour Court. The SEO places a legally binding floor on rates and obligations in the construction sector throughout the country. A further SEO application for about 10,000 mechanical craft workers was heard by the Labour Court in October 2017. In other sectors, such as hotels, there is stronger resistance to SEOs.

In the public sector, since 2010 successive major agreements have provided the national framework for industrial relations for the whole of the public sector: the Croke Park Agreement 2010, the Haddington Road Agreement 2013 and the Lansdowne Road Agreements 2015 and 2017 (these are incorporated into one continuing public sector agreement).

Levels of collective bargaining 2019


National level (Intersectoral)

Sectoral level

Company level



Working time


Working time


Working time

Principal or dominant level

x (public sector)



x (private sector)


Important but not dominant level


x (public sector)

x (public sector)


Existing level





In the private sector, there is only local/enterprise level bargaining in play, although, as noted above, there is sectoral bargaining in sectors like construction, security and contract cleaning.

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, each national bilateral agreement lasts approximately three years. The Public Service Stability Agreement is in place from 2018-2020.


The largest union, SIPTU, usually agrees moderate but steady (2-3% per anuum) pay increases 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, following the collapse of social partnership national agreements, from which Ibec withdrew in 2009.

Extension mechanisms

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 reformed the existing Joint Labour Committee wage-setting mechanisms. The Act provides for the Labour Court to adopt an Employment Regulation Order (ERO) drawn up by a JLC. 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 ERO is then given statutory effect by the Minister for Business, 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.

New Employment Regulation Orders in the Security and Contract Cleaning sectors have been established since the 2015 legislation was introduced. The IR (Amendment) Act 2015 also provides for Registered Employment Agreements (REAs) on pay and conditions of employment in individual enterprises. The effect of registration with the Labour Court is to make the provisions of an REA binding.

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 SEOs and EROs, on grounds of financial difficulty.

The derogation provisions are identical for both EROs (which cover lower-paid sectors) and SEOs (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/SEO 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/SEO 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 and two SEOs 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.

Peace clauses

During the social partnership era, a number of peace clauses were incorporated within national wage agreements, and many industrial relations observers associated them with relatively high levels of industrial peace. In the public sector, the Public Service Stability Agreements contain industrial peace clauses, including the Public Service Stability Agreement (2018-2020), which stipulates that the maintenance of industrial peace is an essential requirement of the Agreement. Accordingly, all forms of industrial action are precluded in respect of any matters covered by the Agreement, where the employer, trade union or staff association are acting in accordance with the provisions of the Agreement. There is an Oversight Body, which will oversee compliance with industrial peace requirements across sectors, in conjunction with sectoral oversight bodies. The Oversight Body will be responsible for proactively addressing matters of implementation and interpretation during the term of the Agreement, including:

  • addressing any anomalies that may arise under this Agreement;
  • addressing any major disputes that arise;
  • making the final determination on whether a dispute shall be determined in accordance with the procedures laid out in the Agreement;
  • determining any matter associated with the correct operation of dispute resolution procedures including the question of timelines, cooperation with disputed change, etc;
  • determining the correct operation of those procedures in any case where that matter is disputed; and
  • adjudicating in the event of a dispute regarding compliance with the outsourcing provisions of this Agreement.

At local level, some company level collective agreements contain explicit peace clauses. However, they are not very frequent at this decentralised level.

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, usually for new entrants and/or future service, while those with defined contribution schemes sometimes increase the level of employer contributions Other fringe benefits agreed as part of local pay agreements include improvements in sick pay, private health insurance benefit, annual leave (often related to service) and tax-efficient vouchers (vouchers up to €500 per annum are tax-free)..

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

Industrial action is any action taken by a trade union, workers, or by an employer in the course of a dispute. The term is sometimes used to mean ‘strike’, but in fact it encompasses a significant number of other forms of action, including a ‘go-slow’, overtime ban, ‘work to rule’ , and so forth.

In section 8 of 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.’

Industrial action is defined as ‘any action which affects, or is likely to affect, the terms or conditions, whether express or implied, of a contract and which is taken by any number or body of workers acting in combination or under a common understanding 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.’

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.

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.

In the past five years or so, official strike action has been most frequent in the public transport sector, with high profile disputes at tram company LUAS and Bus Eireann. Overall, however, strike action in Ireland remains at historically low levels in relative terms.

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). For example, 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. In the past couple of years, unofficial action has been prominent in the public transport sector, at Dublin Bus and Iarnrod Eireann.

Occurrences of workplace ‘sit-ins’ have increased in quantity, and become more visible, in the past five years. 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 2015–2019






2019 *

Working days lost per 1,000 employees






Number of strikes






Source: CSO: Industrial Disputes statistics

* Quarters 1-3 only, no information available about Quarter 4.

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.

Use of alternative dispute resolution methods

From the 1990s, a growing number of firms in Ireland began to adopt ‘alternative dispute resolution practices’ for resolving both individual and collective forms of workplace conflict. However, the last survey data on the extent of ADR is from 2008. The overall incidence and workforce penetration of individual and group ADR practices by 2008 are outlined in Tables 1 and 2. Individual forms of ADR, other than the use of external experts acting in a mediation, facilitation or other related capacity, remained uncommon. The incidence and penetration of various forms of group ADR were, however, significantly higher. Large minorities of firms reported having adopted, or resorting to, one or more forms of group ADR, including assisted negotiations, brainstorming or related problem-solving techniques and interest-based bargaining. These forms of ADR were found to have covered significant sections of the workforce.

The incidence of ADR practices for resolving individual and group conflict

ADR practices for handling individual grievances in firms in Ireland (2019)


% of firms

% of employees

Conventional DR practices


Formal written grievance & disciplinary procedures involving progressively higher levels of management in resolving disputes



ADR practices


Use of external experts (other than Rights Commissioners, LRC or Labour Court)



Use of review panels comprising

employees’ peers



Use of review panels comprising




Use of an employee ‘hotline’ or

email-based ‘speak-up’ service



Use of company ombudsperson



ADR practices for handling group disputes in firms in Ireland (2008)


% of firms

% of employees

Conventional DR practices


Formal written grievance & disciplinary procedures involving progressively higher levels of management in resolving disputes



Resort at final stage in procedure, where deadlock remains, to LRC and Labour Court



ADR practices


Use of external experts to assist in

reaching settlement or to prevent

deadlock in discussion or negotiation with the company



Use of ‘brainstorming’, problem-solving and related techniques to solve problems or resolve disputes



Use of formal interest-based (‘win-win’) bargaining techniques to resolve disputes



Source: Based on a representative sample of 505 firms in the private &commercial state-owned sectors in Ireland, employing 20 or more employees, in 2008. For details of the survey, see Hann et al. (2009).

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.

The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 provides that core employment terms must be provided to employees within 5 days of starting work for the employer, including, name and address of employer, rate of pay and hours of work. If an employer fails to specify to an employee, in writing, these core terms of employment within one month of the date of commencement of employment an employer could be liable on summary conviction (i.e., in the District Court) to fine not exceeding €5,000 or up to 12 months’ imprisonment.

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 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 – had been expected to consolidate all maternity and parental leave rights into one law, but is not included in the latest Government legislative programme (Spring 2021).

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.


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).



Who pays?


Legal basis

Parental Leave Acts 1998–2006

Paternity leave

Maximum duration

2 weeks


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. In the 2021 budget, this waiting period was reduced again from six days to three days, for any new claims from the end of February 2021.

Retirement age

There is no general automatic retirement age in Ireland. The State pension age is now paid at age 66, and this had been planned to rise to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028 for both women and men. The rise to 67 has been placed on hold for at least 2021, while a new Pensions Commission examines a variety of issues around state pensions. 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.

The Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 was enacted in December 2018. The Act provides for an increase in the compulsory retirement age of most public servants recruited prior to 1 April 2004, from age 65 to age 70. Under the Act, any relevant public servant who had not already reached his/her compulsory retirement age before 26 December 2018 has a new compulsory retirement age of 70.

Most public servants recruited before 1 April 2004 previously had a compulsory retirement age of 65. Public servants who were recruited between 1 April 2004 and 31 December 2012 ('new entrants') have no compulsory retirement age and are not affected by this legislation. Public servants who were recruited since 1 January 2013 are members of the Single Pension Scheme and already had a compulsory retirement age of 70. With the enactment of the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018, no public servant, other than a member of the uniformed fast accrual group has a compulsory retirement age of less than 70.

The following groups are not covered:

  • 'Uniformed pension fast accrual' group: There are certain groups of employees in the public service who, for operational reasons are required to retire early. This is the group comprising members of An Garda Siochána, members of the Permanent Defence Force, Firefighters and Prison Officers.
  • Groups who, by convention, have no compulsory retirement age: the President of Ireland, a Member of either House of the Oireachtas or a member of the European Parliament, the holder of a qualifying office as defined in the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 (e.g. members of the Government, Ministers of State, Ceann Comhairle, Attorney General).
  • Members of the Judiciary and others whose compulsory retirement age is the responsibility of the Minster for Justice and Equality under Court and Court Officers legislation: Judges, Master of the High Court, County Registrars etc.
  • Public servants who have retired and been re-hired on contract. Their fixed term contract terms continue to apply.



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.

Average pay trends

According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) Earnings and Labour Cost Quarterly survey, in the five years from Q3 2014 to Q3 2019 average weekly earnings rose by 13.4%, from €677.13 in Q3 2014 to €768.14. There were large differences in the changes to average weekly earnings across individual sectors over this time period, ranging between +3.8% in the education sector to + 23.1% in the information and communication sector.

NACE Principal Activity









Quarterly change


Annual change










































Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles












Transportation and storage












Accommodation and food services












Information and communication












Financial, insurance and real estate












Professional, scientific and technical activities












Administrative and support services












Public administration and defence
























Human health and social work












Arts, entertainment, recreation and other service activities























Private sector












Public sector












Source: CSO Earnings and Labour Costs series, Table 1 (* preliminary figures for Q3/2019)

Minimum wages

Ireland’s statutory minimum wage was established under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000.

These are the National Minimum Wage Rates that apply in Ireland from 1 January 2019:

  • Experienced adult worker €10.20 per hour
  • Aged 19: €9.18 per hour
  • Aged 18: €8.16 per hour
  • Aged under 18: €7.14 per hour

The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 abolished training rates and simplified sub-minimum rates based solely on age, with effect from 4 March 2019.









Adult rate








Youth 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.

Wage-setting mechanisms, such JLC/EROs and REAs, can also set legally binding minimum pay rates.

For more information regarding the level and development of minimum wages, please see:

Collectively agreed pay outcomes

For more detailed information on the most recent outcomes in terms of collectively agreed pay, please see:

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. (This is set to change in the public sector over the course of the 2021-2022 ‘Building Momentum agreement, which envisages a restoration of unpaid hours conceded by the trade unions in 2013. An independent body will be established by end March 2021 to assess issues pertaining to the increased (unpaid) working hours under the Haddington Road Agreement (2013) and ‘make appropriate recommendations to be applied equitably across all affected grades, groups, categories and sectors’. The body’s recommendations will be initiated within the lifetime of the agreement. To enable commencement of the recommendations during 2022, an ‘envelope of €150m will be made available across all affected grades, groups, categories and sectors’. The parties to the agreement will ‘engage proactively in relation to such provisions as are necessary to roll out any remaining recommendations’.

For more detailed information on working time (including annual leave, statutory and collectively agreed working time), please consult:

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.

Persons employed part time in Ireland and EU27 (% of total employment)








Total (EU27)







Total (Ireland)







Women (EU27)







Women (Ireland)







Men (EU27)







Men (Ireland)







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.’

Involuntary part-time

Involuntary part-time workers can be defined as those working part-time because they could not find a full-time job.

Persons employed in involuntary part-time in Ireland and EU27 (% of total part-time employment)








Total (EU27)







Total (Ireland)







Women (EU27)







Women (Ireland)







Men (EU27)







Men (Ireland)







Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey [lfsa_eppgai]- involuntary part-time employment as a percentage of the total part-time employment, by sex and age (20 to 64 years of age)

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:


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’).

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

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







All accidents






Percent change on previous year






Per 1,000 employees






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. An updated version of this code, combining the HSA code with a separate one from the WRC, was made effective in December 2020.

For more detailed information on health and well-being at work, please consult:

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.


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.

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 more detailed information on work organisation, please consult:

For Ireland, the European Company Survey 2019 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.

Equality and non-discrimination at work

Equality and non-discrimination at work

The principle of equal treatment requires that all people, and in the context of the workplace all workers, have the right to receive the same treatment, and will not be discriminated against on the basis of criteria such as age, disability, nationality, race and religion.

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 1998–2015 outlaw pay discrimination based on gender.

In April 2919, the (then) Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan and the former Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton announced the publication of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill. Under the legislation, employers would have to prepare information on their gender pay gap for publication. The information would include the mean and median gap in hourly pay between men and women; the mean and median gap in bonus pay between men and women; the mean and median gap in hourly pay of part-time male and female employees; the percentage of men and of women who received bonus pay; and the percentage of men and of women who received benefits in kind.

The legislation has since languished, due partly to a combination of the general election in January, 2020 and the onset of Covid-19. The new Programme for Government (June, 2020) contains a commitment to introduce gender pay gap legislation by current three-party coalition Government.

‘HR Practices in Ireland’, a survey published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development Ireland (CIPD) in 2020, provided a snapshot of the issues affecting the Irish workplace at the end of 2019. Regarding the Gender Pay Gap, CIPD said their research showed a small improvement in 2019: ‘33% of organisations now say they are calculating their GPG, compared to 30% the previous year’. However, while 33% were measuring their gender pay gap, ‘50% say they don’t have one’. Mary Connaughton, CIPD Director, said this is a “perennial issue” in responses to their surveys and shows that the level of understanding of the realities around Ireland’s Gender Pay Gap still needs improvement.

‘This is partly down to the fact that there’s no legal requirement for employers to take action in this area, and proposed legislation is more than a year overdue at this stage. We are keenly aware of the many pressures facing the government as we go into the closing months of 2020, but we’re appealing for the coalition to ensure the Gender Pay Gap bill is included on the agenda for the upcoming Oireachtas (parliamentary) term,’ said Ms Connaughton.

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.



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Eurofound (2020b), Minimum Wages in 2020: Annual review , Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

Eurofound (2020c), Collective agreements and bargaining coverage in the EU: A mapping of types, regulations and first findings from the European Company Survey 2019 , working paper, Dublin.

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