Ireland: Latest working life developments – Q2 2017

The Public Service Stability Agreement, new measures for banded hours, a national bus strike, pay bargaining agreements and national social dialogue are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Ireland in the second quarter of 2017.

Public Service Stability Agreement concluded

In June 2017, a new Public Service Stability Agreement covering the period 20182020 was concluded between public sector unions and management. The pay terms are as follows:

  • 1% increase in annualised salaries on 1 January 2018
  • 1% increase in annualised salaries on 1 October 2018
  • 1% increase in annualised salaries up to €30,000 on 1 January 2019
  • 1.75% increase in annualised salaries on 1 September 2019
  • 0.5% increase in annualised salaries up to €32,000 on 1 January 2020
  • 2% increase in annualised salaries on 1 October 2020.

The agreement expires on 31 December 2020.

There will be reductions in the pension-related deduction or ‘pension levy’ that was introduced under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) Act 2009, for all except those who receive fast accrual pensions.

The agreement follows calls by the unions to expedite the restoration of pay cuts implemented during the economic crisis. It also follows the publication of the first report of the Public Service Pay Commission (PDF) in May 2017.

Many union ballots are not expected to conclude until later in the summer, so the fate of the proposed extension agreement is not yet fully clear (the agreement is subject to an aggregate ballot of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) weighted in terms of membership numbers). However, according to Industrial Relations News (IRN) 'the decision by the primary teachers’ union (INTO) to recommend rejection of the revised public service agreement will make it difficult but not impossible for the proposed deal to pass an aggregate ballot’. On the other hand, the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) (the union with the most delegate votes on the Public Services Committee of ICTU), and The Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union (IMPACT) have recommended a ‘Yes’ vote. The key issues for those unions that do not support the agreement or who are currently undecided are demands for pay equality for new entrants, and guarantees on recruitment and retention measures in certain sectors – in particular, the health sector.

New measures for banded hours

In May 2017, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation published changes it intends to introduce for low-paid workers in Ireland, supported by the 2015 University of Limerick report on zero- and low-hour contracts (PDF). Under the proposals, zero-hour employment contracts would be (largely) banned, with employees having the right to contracts that reflect actual working hours. The proposals recommend that draft legislation be made a priority. The government have approved five new measures:

  • ensuring that workers are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements – in particular, their core terms at an early stage of their employment
  • strengthening the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid, vulnerable workers who may be brought in to work for a defined period, but not provided with that work
  • prohibiting zero-hours contracts, except in cases of genuine casual work, emergency cover, or short-term relief work for that employer
  • ensuring that workers on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than provided for in their contracts of employment are entitled to be placed in a band of hours that reflects the reality of the hours they actually worked over an extended period
  • strengthening anti-victimisation provisions for employees who try to invoke a right under these proposals.

End to Bus Eireann dispute

A dispute over pay at the state bus company, Bus Eireann, concluded when both unions involved (SIPTU and the National Bus and Rail Union) accepted a Labour Court recommendation. This ended what Industrial Relations News described as ‘the most serious public transport dispute of recent years’, when 2,500 workers in the company went on strike for three weeks in March and April 2017.

Pay bargaining in private and semi-state sectors

Local-level pay bargaining in the private sector continued in the second quarter of 2017. In the retail sector, around 700 workers in Brown Thomas department stores will receive a 4% pay increase over a 24-month period, from 1 February 2017 to 31 January 2019; with a 2% basic pay increase effective from 1 April 2017, and another 2% increase effective from 1 February 2018. At Shaws department stores, management and the union Mandate agreed a 2% basic pay increase for the company’s 600 staff over 18 months.

Pay agreements were also concluded in the semi-state sector in the second quarter of 2017. Pay increases of between 3% and 4% a year to 2020 were agreed as part of a proposed agreement at Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), which operates Dublin and Cork Airports. The agreement also includes a new career framework and salary bands. At Dublin Port, a new pay agreement for craft workers will be worth 8% over three years – 3% on 1 January 2017, 2.5% on 1 January 2018 and 2.5% on 1 January 2019.

National Economic Dialogue event takes place

At the end of June 2017, the Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Pascal Donohoe, hosted the third National Economic Dialogue which involved representatives from government, community, voluntary and environmental groups, business, unions, research institutes and the academic community. Subjects under discussion included: budgeting; productivity; competitiveness and investment; labour market participation; spatial planning; delivering future skills needs; climate change policy; and agri-food.

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