Ireland: Latest working life developments Q4 2018
New legislation prohibiting zero-hour contracts in most circumstances, public sector pay disputes, and a survey on key pay and workplace trends are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Ireland in the fourth quarter of 2018.
New employment legislation limits zero-hour contracts
The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018, concerning zero-hour contracts, was passed in December 2018. The main provisions of the Act enhance workers’ rights in several ways.
- Employers must give employees basic terms of employment within five days.
- Zero-hour contracts are prohibited except in situations of genuine casual employment and where they are essential to allow employers to provide cover in emergency situations or to cover short-term absence.
- A new minimum amount must be paid to employees called in to work but sent home again without work.
- The banded hours provision gives employees whose contracted hours do not reflect the reality of the hours they habitually work the right to be placed in another band (calculated based on hours worked over a 12-month reference period).
- The Act includes strong anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke their rights under this legislation.
- Government of Ireland: Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018
Pay disputes in the public sector
In the fourth quarter of 2018, two teacher unions – the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) – rejected government proposals on improving the pay of post-2010 entrants to the sector. These proposals would allow these entrants to skip their fourth and eighth incremental pay increases and reach the top of their scale in the same number of years as their pre-2011 colleagues. The executive of the largest teacher union, INTO, began a period of consultation with members in advance of any industrial action ballots on this issue.
In November, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) warned that failure to facilitate talks on the issue of medical consultants’ pay levels would result in a ballot for industrial action. The union claims that the fact that consultants hired after 2012 are on salaries worth 30% less than their colleagues is an example of pay discrimination. The Department of Health has said that ‘consideration will need to be given to potential solutions’, but that any such potential solutions will ‘need to be in line with public sector pay policy and available budgets’.
In December, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) voted to strike over their long-standing pursuit of a 10–12% pay rise.  According to specialist publication Industrial Relations News (IRN), in the face of industrial action by nurses, ‘the government side – and other public service unions – are bound to maintain the integrity of the current public service agreement, the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA)’. The Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, warned the INMO that the dispute ‘directly conflicts’ with the terms of the PSSA, public pay and budgetary policy.
The cost of implementing the pay rise has been estimated at €300 million a year, which the INMO argues is an exaggeration. INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha has insisted they would be prepared to accept certain cost-saving measures if engagement took place under Clause 3 of the PSSA. The union believes this clause allows for specific claims. However, according to IRN, this view is not shared by the minister or by key unions on the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
- Workplace Relations Commission: Public Service Stability Agreement
Key pay and workplace trends
In 2018, the Irish Business Employers’ Confederation (Ibec) conducted a survey of 339 companies on key pay and workplace trends. The results showed that nearly half of the companies (45%) will be focusing on managing ‘an intergenerational workforce and associated issues such as retirement’ in 2019.
A similar percentage (47%) state they have identified new skills needed for the future workplace, while 32% are focusing on providing support to individuals re-entering the workforce after an extended break.
In terms of the pay, the survey found that 80% of employers plan to increase their pay rates in 2019, with the median increase in basic rates expected to be 2.5%. Basic pay rises are most likely in the high-tech manufacturing sector and in manufacturing in general and are also more likely to take place in larger firms. More than 9 out of 10 respondents with over 500 employees are expecting to increase their basic pay rates in 2019. Around 70% of small companies expect to do the same.
The report also sought to identify the initiatives that human resources practitioners and businesses are adopting to anticipate and manage the new and evolving work environment. The survey responses clearly demonstrate an emphasis on broad employability skills, with a focus on leadership and communications.
The top five investment areas identified are:
- leadership and people management (75%)
- job-related information technology (55%)
- communication skills (42%)
- teamworking (37%)
- project management (36%) and conflict/networking/assertiveness (36%)
Breaking the data down to look at investment in management skills, the priorities are leadership/people management (69%) and strategic thinking/innovation (59%).
According to Ibec, the research shows that companies are actively working to answer work–life balance demands, as well as championing new and more flexible collaborative working styles.
- Flexible start and finish times are well established (62%).
- Flexibility regarding work location is present in 39% of companies.
- Reduced working hours are available in 44% of companies.
- Investment in new tech platforms to enable staff communication is in place in 36% of companies.
The survey shows that ongoing cross-functional working (74%) and project-based working (71%) are the most prevalent flexible work practices, where transferable skills can be honed to increase future employability skills.