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ISSUE 63 page 6

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Irish court decision makes further inroads into industrial relations

Following both the strictures of the EU troika and a court case in July 2011 the statutory system of industrial relations in Ireland was revised in 2012 (see issue 57). Now it has been dealt a further blow by a Supreme Court ruling that Registered Employment Agreements (REAs) are unconstitutional. We examine the likely consequences for workers.

The Irish system of regulation of industrial relations included the recognition of collective agreements made by both Joint Labour Committees (Employment Regulation Orders or EROs) and those negotiated between large employers and representative trade unions in a particular sector (REAs). REAs have now joined EROs, having been struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court held that the in the 1946 legislation the Irish parliament had ceded too much of its law-making power to ‘private persons … to make any law they wish in relation to employment so long as the Labour Court considers them to be substantially representative of workers and employers in the sector’. The case was brought by the electrical contractors association NECI who contended that they had played no part in their sectoral agreement but were bound by its  provisions, including salary levels.
It is now unclear if the minimum pay rates that REAs guaranteed can be maintained. Dave Butler of NECI said that all REAs were now invalid but Eamon Devoy from the electricians’ union TEEU replied that any contractual rights and conditions could only be altered by the parties involved. He conceded, however, that companies were now able to recruit new workers at any wage above the national minimum of €8.65 per hour.
For the government the Minister for Jobs, Richard Bruton, agreed that existing terms and conditions for employees covered by REAs would be unaffected but promised that the court judgement would be studied in relation to the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, passed in 2012. There are currently some 70 such agreements in sectors such as construction, retail and printing as well as the electrical industry. Some labour lawyers believe that the wording in contracts may allow some terms and conditions to be varied by employers and that no prosecutions against firms breaking REAs can be continued.


Agency temps not covered by permanent conversion rule
Danish ‘sack the sick’ law discriminates against disabled people
The case of a Neapolitan worker who was placed by an agency with the Italian postal service has cleared up any ambiguity in the laws governing two different types of temporary work. Sgr. Della Rocca contended that, after being employed on a series of short-term contracts, he automatically became a permanent staff member under the EU Fixed-Term Work directive, passed in 1999. However the ECJ found that the directive only applied to direct employment with the ‘end-user’ company. The relationship with the agency was covered by different legislation: the EU Temporary Agency Workers directive from 2008, which contains no such provision.
In Denmark employers may give one month’s notice to  workers who have been on sick leave for at least 120 days in the previous 12 months. When this happened to Jette Ring and Skouboe Werge following chronic back pain and car crash ‘whiplash’ injuries respectively, they went to the HK trade union. The union prosecuted both companies involved on the basis that they had not made  any adjustment to enable the disabled employees to remain at work, such as reducing their hours, as required under the EU Employment Discrimination directive of 2000. The ECJ decided that ‘disability’ can include both curable and incurable conditions, if they are long-term, and does not imply a total exclusion from work. One of the ‘accommodation measures’ that employers can be expected to make under the 2000 directive is the offer of part-time working. The Danish law could not, therefore, be applied to employees who had been absent from work due to their employer’s failure to make such adjustments.

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