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The current national agreement, Sustaining Progress  (IE0304201N  and
IE0301209F ) contains an 'inability to pay' clause, allowing employers not
to pay all or some of the pay increases due under the agreement in
circumstances where this would result in serious loss of competitiveness and
employment. If an employer wishes to claim inability to pay, the first step
is at local level, where a company that claims to be in competitive/financial
difficulty is obliged to open its books to employee representatives. If this
does not convince the trade union(s), then the matter can be referred to
normal Labour Relations Commission (LRC) conciliation, and should this fail
to resolve the dispute, then the LRC can call in an agreed independent
assessor(s). These independent assessors, chosen from a panel of 12, examine
the financial background of employers claiming inability to pay, under the
auspices of the LRC. More controversially and innovatively, the procedure
allows for referral of such cases to the Labour Court for a binding decision
on whether or not the /Sustaining Progress/ increases should be paid.
The long awaited report  of a National Task Force on Medical Staffing,
chaired by David Hanly, was published in October 2003, making a number of
proposals for reforming the Irish health service. A number of formidable
industrial relations hurdles will have to be cleared if the proposals are to
be implemented; not least in relation to the requirement to reduce the
working hours of junior doctors in order to comply with the relevant EU
working time Directive.
The 'compact for constructive participation' in the semi-state airport
management company, Aer Rianta, dates back to the mid-1990s, when a Joint
Union Company Group (JUCG), which was at the centre of the process,
established multi-level proposals for 'partnership' in three Irish airports -
Dublin, Shannon and Cork. These proposals were set out in two key documents
(explored in more detail below): The compact itself, entitled 'Towards
constructive participation: a positive approach to management/union
relationships' (1994); and the 'Requisite arrangements' (1995) .
European Union heads of state and government met in Brussels on 12 December
2003 for a European Council summit, under the outgoing Italian EU Presidency.
A range of issues were discussed, including employment and social policy
Collective bargaining in the early months of 2004 over new collective
agreements in the trend-setting private sector bargaining area covered by the
Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) and
the Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) - to
succeed the four-year agreements concluded in 2000 (DK0002168F ) - is
likely to be very difficult. The current economic situation sets a very
narrow framework for the improvements that can be negotiated, while the
labour market policy of the coalition government of the Liberal Party
(Venstre) and Conservative Party (Det Konservative Folkeparti) since it came
to office in 2001 (DK0112147F ) has led to uncertainty as to the political
interventions that can be expected in some key fields. It will also be
difficult for the negotiators to build a bridge between the employers’
demands for increased flexibility and the trade unions' demands for
improvements in relation to special working time arrangements.
Bargaining over a new collective agreement for the metalworking industry
started on 15 December 2003, and the employers’ association,Gesamtmetall,
is seeking more flexible working time arrangements at establishment level. It
states that its goals in the bargaining round are not only to secure jobs and
incomes in a difficult environment, but also to create new jobs, and
establishment-specific working time arrangements are seen as a key measure in
In November 2003, representatives of the Belgian Red Cross and its trade
unions signed a final agreement which ended a dispute which started between
them two months earlier, following the dismissal of four workers.
Workers at Austrian Federal Railways (Österreichische Bundesbahnen, ÖBB)
went on strike on 4 November 2003 and from 12 to 14 November 2003 (including
a continuous period of 66 hours). These strikes, which followed a two-week
overtime ban which started in mid-October, constituted the largest-scale
industrial action at the company since 1945.
On 2 December 2003, the UK government introduced the Employment Relations
Bill  in the House of Commons. This article summarises the background to
the legislation, its key provisions and the reaction from employers and trade
A long-running concern for successive UK governments has been the persistent
productivity gap between the UK and its main competitors (UK9805121F ).
Productivity has taken centre stage in the 'New' Labour government’s
economic strategy (UK9902182F ), being viewed as the key to raising
competitiveness and improving overall prosperity. In order to provide a new
perspective on the problem, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and
the Economic and Social Research Council commissioned Professor Michael
Porter of Harvard Business School to investigate the current state of UK
competitiveness. The report, UK Competitiveness: moving to the next stage
, (co-authored by Christian Ketels) was published in May 2003.