Ireland: Latest developments in working life Q1 2019
A strike by nurses over pay, conditions and pay in the private sector, paternity leave figures and a European Committee of Social Rights ruling on Irish collective bargaining law 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 2019.
Nurses strike over pay dispute
A dispute by nurses over pay parity with other health professional grades resulted in a number of days of strike action in early 2019. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) suspended further strike action following an invitation to talks from the Labour Court.
The Court recommended that a new Enhanced Nurse Practice salary scale should be introduced, which will mark the beginning of a process of transformation and ‘fundamental change’ for the staff nurse role. The proposal will be funded by improving the existing arrangements for new entrant pay and reducing the amount spent on agency staff. The Court also issued a further recommendation to address four critical issues relating to the proposed new nursing contract: location, duties, hours of work and qualifying criteria.
According to an article in Industrial Relations News: ‘The Labour Court’s proposed settlement of the nurses’ pay strike may have averted further industrial action, but it will severely test the credibility of the Public Services Stability Agreement.’ It concluded that the Labour Court did sterling work in securing an end to a dispute that was damaging and a source of concern to the government. 
Second lowest number of strike days on record in 2018
A total of 4,050 days was lost to strike action in 2018 – the second lowest on record.  While there have been at least 10 disputes leading to strike action each year since 2013 (with the exception of 2015, which had 9), the level of disturbance has been mixed. Strikes by teachers accounted for the greatest levels of disturbance in 2014–2016.
Pay and conditions in private sector revealed
The Central Bank of Ireland’s first quarterly bulletin of 2019 says that, in light of labour market prospects, ‘wage pressures are projected to strengthen over the forecast horizon’ and compensation per employee is forecast to increase by 3.4% and 3.6% in 2019 and 2020 respectively. 
Meanwhile, the joint IRN-CIPD 2019 survey of pay and employment practices in over 500 private sector firms found that the companies are planning an average pay increase of 2.82% for 2019. Larger and unionised companies are more likely to be planning increases, but of a more moderate size. 
In terms of non-pay benefits, the survey found that 55% of employers say they will maintain their existing benefits in 2019, with 17% planning to increase them. Meanwhile, 12% do not apply non-pay benefits and 13% say they have yet to make a decision.
The two most popular types of non-benefits are pension contribution (79%) and additional annual leave (51%). Other benefits include on-site facilities (50%), maternity/paternity leave top-up (48%), tax-free vouchers (46%), health insurance contribution (45%) and sick leave top-up (44%).
In total, 72% of companies also intend to pay bonuses this year to all or some groups of employees, with 23% saying they will not and almost 6% remaining undecided. These findings are somewhat lower than in 2018, when 80% of companies intended to pay bonuses.
Paternity leave figures for 2018 released
A state paternity benefit was introduced in September 2016. The payment is currently €245 per week and can be claimed for a maximum of two weeks.
New figures released by the Department of Social Protection show that in 2018 24,080 fathers received paternity leave, compared to 26,559 fathers in 2017.  According to Minister of Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty, the higher number of beneficiaries in 2017 included a delayed uptake from fathers of children born in both 2016 and 2017.
Irish collective bargaining law found not in breach of Charter
The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has found that Irish law regarding collective bargaining for self-employed workers does not breach the European Social Charter.  However, the Committee found that the Competition Act was in breach of the Charter prior to an amendment in 2017.
This decision, which was subsequently endorsed by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, states that self-employed workers should enjoy the right to bargain collectively through organisations that represent them, including on pay-related matters. It goes on to state that trade unions ‘must be allowed to strive for the improvement of the existing living and working conditions of workers’ and not be limited by laws when it comes to achieving the minimum conditions.
However, the agreement also states that the right to bargain collectively ‘is not an absolute right and that it may be restricted by law where this pursues a legitimate aim and is necessary in a democratic society’.
In Ireland, the 2002 Competition Act prohibits self-employed persons from operating collective agreements, as this would essentially be price-fixing. The Act was amended in 2017 to introduce two new categories of worker: ‘false self-employed’ and ‘fully dependent self-employed’. The Act then allowed a trade union to apply to the minister for recognition of a group of workers that fall under one of the two categories and ultimately lift the restriction on bargaining.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) submitted a complaint to the ECSR before the 2017 amendment to the Competition Act.