Ireland: Latest working life developments – Q1 2017

Agreement on an earlier pay rise for public service staff, strikes at Tesco and Bus Éireann, and proposals on minimum pay and working hours for security guards 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 2017.

Public service agreement

Agreement was reached between public service unions and the government in the first quarter of 2017 to bring forward to 1 April 2007 a €1,000 pay rise for staff whose annualised salary is less than €65,000 per year. The pay rise had been due from 1 September 2017.

The agreement followed talks brought about due to anomalies contained in a Labour Court recommendation in late 2016, which added around €20 million to a €30.5 million offer already made to the Gardaí (the Irish police) by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It covers those who are party to the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) and who do not stand to benefit from the Labour Court recommendation. As the joint statement by Government and the Public Service Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on the implementation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement highlights, the additional payment was agreed

on the understanding that there will be continued adherence to the terms of the LRA, and in particular, its mechanisms to resolve disagreements before they escalate into industrial disputes over the remaining period of the Agreement.

In February, members of the Association of Secondary Teachers (ASTI) narrowly rejected proposals to bring them within the LRA by a margin of 52.5% to 47.5%, on a turnout of 75%. The rejection means that the increment freeze that has been in place for the union’s members since July 2016 will remain. In addition, the LRA’s other benefits remain unavailable to the 17,000 working members of the union. These include the provisions on new entrant teachers agreed with the other teacher unions – the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) – and the €1,000 increase due under the LRA.

Bus Éireann dispute

An indefinite strike by bus drivers at state-owned company Bus Éireann began in late March and the issue was referred into the Workplace Relations Commission in early April. The dispute is over pay and cost savings.

Tesco dispute

Strike action began in February by Mandate members at 16 stores across the country belonging to retail giant, Tesco, with strike action due to spread to more stores. The strike was suspended following intervention by the Labour Court, which brought together the employer and the union, as well as the peak-level social partners, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and the Irish employer organisation, Ibec, in an effort to resolve the row. A mediator was appointed in March.

The dispute is over the employment terms for staff whose contracts were agreed before 1996. The company is seeking to streamline its staff terms, while Mandate wants to ensure any changes for longer-serving staff are on a voluntary basis. Both a proposal by the Workplace Relations Commission in 2016 and a subsequent Labour Court recommendation on the matter have been rejected by Tesco employees.

Security sector Joint Labour Committee

In January, a new draft Employment Regulation Order (ERO) covering 20,000 workers in the security guard sector was published by the Joint Labour Committee (JLC). It lays down the following legally binding minimum pay rates:

  • €11.05 per hour from 1 April 2017
  • €11.35 per hour from 1 April 2018
  • €11.65 per hour from 1 April 2019.

The new ERO also provides for minimum hours of employment for the first time in the sector. Those who enter the industry would be offered a contract of employment with a minimum of 24 hours per week after six months’ service. However, some conditions are put on this, as Clause 14 states:

If it is required for operational purposes that the contract hours available are less than 24 hours per week, and it is demonstrably so, then this clause will not apply and new workers may be employed for hours that are less than provided for in the ERO. While the ERO will cover all workers including existing workers, it will not impact any current arrangements agreed by the employer/worker whereby the hours are less than those provided for in the ERO.

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