Ireland: Latest working life developments – Q3 2017
Union approval of the Public Service Stability Agreement, private sector pay bargaining, public consultation on the gender pay gap, and government backing for the banning of zero-hour contracts are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Ireland in the third quarter of 2017.
Public Service Stability Agreement 2018–2020
In September 2017, the Public Services Committee (PSC) of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) formally approved the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA). A total of 14 unions backed the Agreement, with just 3 against; a margin of 2,170 delegate votes to 532. The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) is still conducting its ballot and Veterinary Ireland, the representative body for veterinary surgeons, has yet to declare a result.
Two of the three teacher unions voted against the Agreement due to their concerns that it did not adequately address the issue of reduced pay scales that had been imposed on new teachers during the financial crisis. According to Industrial Relations News (IRN), the teacher unions might be placated if a ‘clear path’ to resolving the problem was mapped out.
Private sector pay bargaining
IRN’s half-yearly review of pay settlements in the private sector and the commercial semi-state companies was published in July 2017 and covers 85 pay agreements negotiated directly or agreed on the basis of third-party recommendations. The review shows that pay deals over the first half of 2017 have moved up to the 2%–3% per year range, from 1%–3% in 2016, with few deals now below 2%. However, the amount of deals has fallen in the food sector, which may indicate Brexit concerns.
Tackling the gender pay gap
In August 2017, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan, and the Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton, launched a six-week public consultation on tackling the gender pay gap. This aims to gather the views of interested parties in order to inform the development of measures to tackle the gender pay gap, and to identify issues to be advanced through further discussion with unions and employers.
Legislation on zero-hour contracts
The government is expected to publish, by the end of the year, the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which will prohibit zero-hour contracts (with some exceptions). It will mean that workers on low-hour contracts, who work more than their contractual entitlement, can seek to be placed in a band of hours that reflects the reality of their working time (based on a reference period).
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaking at an event hosted by business and employer association Ibec in September, stated: ‘The government will legislate to help employees whose contracts do not reflect the reality of the hours they work, and will prohibit so-called zero-hour contracts.’
The government’s bill is informed by the 2015 University of Limerick report into zero-hour and low-hour contracts, as well as dialogue with the social partners. It aims to:
- ensure workers are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements and, in particular, their core terms at an early stage of their employment;
- strengthen provisions around minimum payments to low-paid, vulnerable workers who may be called in to work but then not provided with that work;
- prohibit zero-hour contracts, except in cases of genuine casual work or emergency cover or short-term relief work for that employer;
- ensure 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 have worked over an extended period;
- strengthen anti-victimisation provisions for employees who try to invoke a right under these proposals.