Ireland: Developments in working life – Q1 2016

The first General Election since Ireland exited the bailout programme, continuing local pay bargaining and a six-day strike over pay at light rail tram company Luas are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Ireland in the first quarter of 2016.

General Election and efforts to form a government

A General Election was held on 26 February 2016 – the first since Ireland successfully exited the bailout programme – with the outgoing Fine Gael–Labour coalition seeking re-election on the basis of a need for stability. Fine Gael, the larger party in the coalition, chose a campaign slogan of ‘Keep the recovery going’. However, both parties lost a large number of seats, including those held by high-profile ministers such as the Minister for Business and Employment, Ged Nash. The Labour Party, in particular, suffered a huge defeat with the party representation in the national parliament falling from 37 to 7. It was suggested that an uneven recovery, a disconnect with rural voters, and the contentious issue of water charges had led to voters abandoning the government parties.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail won the largest number of seats and in March entered into negotiations with independents and smaller parties, each hoping to win enough support to lead a coalition or national consensus government without the need to cooperate with the other. It was also suggested that a minority government might have to take office. As talks continued into April 2016, many commentators began to suggest that the only viable way of forming a stable government was if the two parties, both considered right of centre, formed a coalition. However, historical differences that date back to Ireland's Civil War in the early years of the 20th century have previously prevented such a coalition.

Luas strike

A very high-profile dispute in the transport sector continued in Q1 2016. The dispute over pay and other issues at the Dublin light rail tram company Luas (operated by Transdev Ireland under contract to the government) became more entrenched in March when workers belonging to the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) rejected proposals to end the dispute.

Drivers and other workers went on strike for six days, including Easter Sunday and Monday which coincided with the state commemoration of the 1916 Rising. Further strike action is scheduled for May. Gerry Madden, Managing Director of Transdev Ireland, said the strike notice ‘shows a continuing blatant disregard by SIPTU for Luas customers and the travelling public’. He added the strikes were designed to cause maximum customer disruption. SIPTU Divisional Organiser Owen Reidy said that, in the absence of an agreement or any prospect of an agreement, the workers had no alternative but to serve notice and continue with industrial action.

Local-level pay bargaining

Local-level pay bargaining continued in Q1 2016. According to the joint pay survey carried out by Industrial Relations News and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, half of all private sector companies are planning to increase pay this year. The average projected increase is 2.8% in 2016, with 81% of firms planning to give a bonus to some or all employees as the labour market tightens. High-profile pay agreements concluded in Q1 2016 include those by the Bank of Ireland and Primark (Penneys), while workers at the state-owned electricity company ESB rejected a pay agreement.

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