Ireland: latest working life developments Q2 2018

Legislation to reduce the gender pay gap and increase parental leave, the fourth annual National Economic Dialogue, a huge legal payout to hospital consultants, and high-profile disputes at Lloyds Pharmacy and Ryanair 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 2018.

Firms to report on gender pay gap

Employers will have to publish information on their gender pay gap under new legislation approved by the cabinet. The proposed regulations in the General Scheme of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill will apply to employers with 250 or more employees initially, then to those with 150 or more and finally to those with 50 or more. They will apply to both the public and private sector.

Differences in hourly pay, as well as bonus, part-time and temporary contract pay gaps, will be among the data which must be reported. To enforce compliance, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will be able to apply to the Circuit Court while employees may also apply to the Workplace Relations Commission.

The Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said much of last year’s public consultation had been taken on board and the proposals were part of a wider package of measures to promote gender equality in Ireland. 

Parental leave extended 

Unpaid parental leave looks set to increase to six months, as the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017, proposed by the Social Democrats, was passed by the Dáil. It increases unpaid leave from 18 weeks to 26 weeks to be taken over the lifetime of children up to the age of 12.

Fourth National Economic Dialogue takes place

At the end of June 2018, the Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar spoke at the annual National Economic Dialogue (NED). He said the government's economic policy was based on the following six principles: managing the public finances, investing in infrastructure, reforming public services, taking Ireland's place among the nations of the world, raising living standards and achieving full employment with better jobs.

The NED, now in its fourth year, brings together representatives of government, business, unions, community, and voluntary and environmental groups to discuss the government’s competing economic and social priorities.

Hospital consultants win €182 million back pay

In June 2018, the High Court awarded a significant settlement to hospital consultants after increases due under a new contract went unpaid.

The agreement means the state will have to pay out €182 million in arrears, with 40% (€73 million) to be paid in early 2019 and the remaining 60% (€109 million) due in 2020. The deal also includes ongoing annual payments of €62 million from 2019, backdated to the June 2018 settlement date. 

The case has its origins in a 2008 contract under which consultants agreed to changes in working practices, such as reducing their private practice (while increasing their input into the public hospital system) and increase working time flexibility. In return, former Health Minister Mary Harney offered salaries of between €170,000 and €240,000, with increases to be applied in phases.

The first payment was made but not the second because of the impact of the financial crisis. Unlike other public service pay cuts at the time, this non-payment was not covered by the raft of FEMPI (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) legislation and so resulted in a breach of contract case.

Disputes escalate at Lloyds Pharmacy and Ryanair

A dispute over trade union recognition at Lloyds Pharmacy led to a second day of work stoppages by 200 staff at 34 stores in June, with strikes due to continue in July.

Mandate trade union said the chain was refusing to negotiate over employee demands for a pay increase and incremental pay scales, sick pay scheme, security of hours with no zero-hour contracts, and improved annual leave and public holiday entitlements. 

Lloyds Pharmacy does not recognise Mandate but says it deals with pay, conditions and benefits issues through a colleague representative committee (CRC). It says that the CRC has agreed to increase pay (backdated to 1 April 2018), a new sick pay scheme and the elimination of the minimum wage, adding that it does not have zero-hour contracts.

Industrial action flared after Lloyds Pharmacy ignored a Labour Court recommendation for both parties to engage and seek agreement.

Meanwhile, Ryanair pilots were balloting for strike action in June in a dispute over procedures for promotions, transfers between bases and annual leave. Efforts to secure a recognition agreement between the airline and the Fórsa trade union appear to have stalled, despite the airline announcing in January that it would now recognise trade unions.

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