Ireland: Latest developments in working life Q2 2019
The implementation of gender pay legislation, changes to parental leave, a strike by health staff and new employment orders for the electric and construction sectors 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 2019.
Gender pay gap bill published
In April, the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan and the Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton published the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019. The bill implements a commitment made in the Programme for a Partnership Government Annual Report 2019 to encourage wage transparency. 
Under the bill, the government can introduce regulations that oblige employers to publish information relating to the disparity in pay between male and female employees. The regulations will apply initially to firms of 250 or more employees, and will reduce the bar to 50 or more employees once the legislation becomes fully operational.  Employers will be required to set out the measures, if any, they are taking to eliminate or reduce any gender pay gap. The requirement applies to the private and public sectors.
Under the regulations, differences in hourly pay between men and women, as well as bonus and part-time gender pay gaps, will have to be published by the employer. The data must detail the percentage and the median and mean pay gap.
Differences in temporary contracts, including the percentage of male and female employees in each of the four pay quartiles, and job classifications may also be required. Publication of gender pay gaps will be required annually.
Minister Flanagan said the bill means firms ‘which can report a low or non-existent pay gap will be at an advantage in recruiting future employees’ and that it ‘will incentivise employers to take measures to address the issue insofar as they can’.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) stated that while increased transparency around pay will not close the gender pay gap, the bill is an important step in promoting actions to tackle the problem at enterprise level. The ICTU pointed out that clear penalties for non-compliance, including for firms that report inaccurate data or fail to report data, are not detailed in the bill.
- Government of Ireland: Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019 (Bill 30 of 2019)
New initiative to boost gender equality at board level
Established by the government, the Balance for Better Business initiative is an independently led review group making recommendations on how more women can be involved in decision-making at the top level of businesses in Ireland.  A series of ambitious targets and advice for firms has also been outlined.
The group has set interim targets for each year, so firms are able to measure their progress against concrete annual milestones. By the end of 2019, no company trading on the Euronext Dublin markets should have an all-male board.
Extensions to parental leave
In May, legislation – proposed by the Social Democrats – was passed that extends unpaid parental leave from 18 weeks to 26 weeks by 2020. The Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019 will introduce an extra eight weeks of parental leave on a phased basis.
From September, the new act will grant parents an extra four weeks’ leave (totalling 26 weeks unpaid parental leave), with a further four weeks from September 2020. An increase to the age at which a child is eligible (from 8 to 12 years) will also extend when parental leave can be taken.
The government’s own paid parental leave provisions, due to be in operation from November, will see the introduction of paid parental leave – in addition to existing maternity and paternity provisions. It is expected that the parental leave measure will be two weeks’ paid leave, gradually increasing to seven weeks by 2021.
- Government of Ireland: Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019 (Act 11 of 2019)
Workplace Relations Commission releases annual report
The 2018 annual report of the Workplace Relations Commission showed increased activity in most of its service areas, especially in recovering unpaid wages, despite fewer prosecutions.  Unpaid wages recovered through commission inspection activity last year amounted to €3.1 million. Between 2016 and 2018, €6.37 million in wages was recovered (from 15,330 inspections and 359 prosecutions).
There is a continuing trend of gradual decline in traditional conciliation conferences. However, with a success rate of 87% in 2018 (84% in 2017), the success of these conferences remains high. The commission cites the low level of industrial action as one of the main reasons behind such positive conciliation statistics.
The success rate of the commission adjudication service was broadly the same as the previous year, with 48% of adjudication decisions upheld by the Labour Court in appeal decisions, 27% overturned and 24% varied.
Health support staff strike
Represented by the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), up to 10,000 health support staff across 38 hospitals engaged in a 24-hour strike in June in pursuit of a pay increase. Planned further strikes were postponed, allowing talks to begin at The Labour Court. These talks were ongoing at the end of June.
SIPTU says that the government has failed to honour the wage increases that were recommended by a job evaluation scheme (the scheme examined whether any staff roles had changed and expanded in recent years). The union highlighted that its members were entitled to a wage increase of up to €3,000 based on the scheme, and that the healthcare staff concerned should have received their increases months ago.
In earlier talks with the Workplace Relations Commission, the government offered to pay part of the increases in November and the remaining balance in 2020 and 2021.
Sectoral employment orders in construction and electrical
In Q2 2019, both the construction and electrical contracting industries had new sectoral minimum wages approved by the minister responsible for employment, with the increases likely to take effect from October and September respectively.
The minimum wage in the construction sector will increase by 2.7% from 1 October 2019 and by the same amount again from 1 October 2020. This increase will apply to about 50,000 craft and operative workers in the construction sector.
This is the second sectoral employment order in the construction sector since the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 established the sectoral employment order mechanism. The mechanism will replace the registered employment agreements, after the Supreme Court ruled them as unconstitutional in 2013.
There will be one 2.7% increase to the minimum wage in the electrical contracting sector from 1 September 2019. This will establish the sectoral employment order in this sector. However, the National Electrical Contractors Ireland (NECI) is currently challenging the new order in the High Court, and is seeking an injunction to prevent it from coming into effect. The NECI argues that the new order would work against competition in the sector and put small electrical contractors at a disadvantage.
- Government of Ireland: Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 (Law 27 of 2015)