Ireland: Latest working life developments Q3 2018

The resolution of a long-running dispute between Ryanair and pilots, a recommendation to increase the national minimum wage and an agreement on pay equalisation for new public service workers 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 2018.

Ryanair dispute with pilots ends with agreement

In August, an agreement was reached between Ryanair and trade union Fórsa (the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) branch) to end a dispute over seniority, base transfers and other issues between the airline and pilots based in Ireland. The agreement – which was concluded with the assistance of mediator Kieran Mulvey – followed four days of strike action in Ireland, conducted by around 25% of its Irish-based pilots.

The agreement covers bases in the Republic of Ireland only, but an appendix explains that the company is negotiating similar agreements with unions to cover other national jurisdictions. Should more advantageous term be granted to pilots in these jurisdictions, (i.e. in relation to annual leave, base transfers and command upgrades) it has been agreed that the parties will reconvene to address their applicability to the pilots covered by this agreement, while ‘recognising that some differences will be a function of national legislation in other jurisdictions’. Both parties have also been encouraged to commit to referring potential matters of dispute to Mr Mulvey ‘without recourse of any form of industrial action’. 


According to Fórsa, ‘100% of pilots believe this proposal to be the first step towards providing transparency and fairness for Ryanair pilots, while also assisting Ryanair in recruiting and retaining pilots in the future.’[1] The trade union acknowledged that relations between IALPA and Ryanair have been difficult in the past and added: ‘IALPA is committed to building a constructive relationship with Ryanair based on mutual respect and a shared future, starting with this initial collective agreement on seniority.’

Eddie Wilson, Ryanair’s Chief People Officer, said that the airline is committed to recognising unions and will work to address concerns as long as its low-cost model remains unchanged.

Ryanair also signed a separate collective agreement with Fórsa for cabin crew that are directly employed. This agreement recognises the union as the ‘sole and exclusive representative body’ for this group in the Republic of Ireland.

Commission backs national minimum wage increase

The Low Pay Commission unanimously backed a new national minimum wage level of €9.80 per hour, an increase of 2.6%. In its 2018 annual report, released in July, the Commission outlined the main factors influencing its decision.

  • Employment figures have risen significantly and economic predictions indicate that Ireland will reach close to full employment in 2019.

  • Research indicates that previous minimum wage increases recommended by the Commission reduced wage inequality, while having a negligible impact on employment.

  • The Irish economy has experienced a strong recovery, including growth in domestic demand and personal consumption.

  • Growth that was initially focused on Dublin has begun to spread across the country.

  • Neither the possibility of a ‘hard’ Brexit (in which the UK leaves the EU without a deal or under World Trade Organization tariffs) or a transitional arrangement (in which the status quo continues to apply) can be discounted.
  • Average weekly and hourly earnings increased across most sectors in 2017. 

  • The cost of housing, childcare and transportation continue to be significant issues for minimum wage and low pay workers, but this situation cannot be resolved by national minimum wage increases alone.

  • Inflation remains low.

 

Agreements and recommendations to benefit public service workers

In September, an agreement was reached between public service unions and the government on pay equalisation terms for 60,000 new public service employees recruited since 2011. Under the proposals, these employees will benefit from skipping points four and eight on their pay scale. The first increase will be implemented from 1 March 2019 and the second in 2020. 


Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, said the deal provides a ‘credible pathway’ to addressing the pay equalisation issue, and is a ‘fair and reasonable outcome’ for the 60,000 employees.[2] This group includes over 16,000 teachers, nearly 5,000 special needs assistants and almost 10,000 nurses.

The Public Service Pay Commission also released a report in September, as part of its efforts to conduct a comprehensive examination of underlying recruitment and retention difficulties in the public service sector. The Commission found there is no generalised recruitment and retention problem in respect to nursing and midwifery, but agreed that some difficulties exist when it comes to meeting workforce requirements in specific areas. The report states that current pay rates ‘do not appear to be unduly affecting the number of nurses, midwives and doctors applying to work abroad’, but the Commission has backed some measures – such as increased allowances – that would cost around €20 million.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which has long campaigned for a pay rise, said that it will vote on the proposals, which cover the Public Service Pay Commission’s recommendations on recruitment and retention difficulties in the health service and the government’s pay equalisation proposal. INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said that new entrant nurses were ‘incensed’ that, under the government’s pay equalisation proposal, they will have to wait up to four years to see any benefit.[3] She added that the Commission’s recommendations, which include an extension of allowances and speedier progression to the senior nurse grade, did not remotely address the recruitment and retention difficulties among nurses.

 

[1] Newstalk.com (2018), Irish Ryanair pilots vote to accept collective agreement , 5 September.

[2] Statement by Minister Donohoe (2018) on new entrant salary scale issue and agreement reached with Public Services Committee of ICTU, 24 September.

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