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ISSUE 68 page 6

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Ireland: watered-down labour committee system to be re-instated

In 1946 Ireland established a system of Joint Labour Committees (JLCs) to regulate wages, typically in traditionally low-paid areas of the economy. Following the financial crash pressures on employers led to them challenging the labour laws on which the committees based their main regulatory tools. Two judgments in their favour led to two reviews of the system which have now been put into practice by the government.

After a High Court ruling in the John Grace Fried Chicken case in 2011 Employment Regulation Orders (EROs) were declared unconstitutional and the ‘Duffy-Walsh’ review set up to propose reforms (see issue 57). Although these were largely put into effect by the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act in 2012  a further judgment outlawed another instrument of the committees: Registered Employment Agreements (REAs) (see issue 63). A new review was instituted, this time led by Janet Hughes of the Labour Rights Commission. Her recommendations include the abolition of two JLCs, for law clerks and Dublin hotel workers, and changes to six others. EROs will only be valid if all parties have signed up to them and any new ones must be approved by both houses of the Irish parliament. In some sectors, such as security and contract cleaning, there is support from employers for sectoral wage bargaining, largely as a way to prevent undercutting by competitors. However it is unlikely that where employers resist minimum wage rates, e.g. in the hotel industry, there will be regulation as the JLCs will no longer be able to issue EROs.
Most of the Hughes recommendations have been accepted by the minister, Richard Bruton, who has re-instated the eight remaining committees. Trade unions SIPTU and Mandate welcomed the re-establishment of the JLCs. Mandate’s General Secretary John Douglas called ‘on all of the relevant employers to engage positively with the process as a matter of urgency’. Employers’ group IBEC was less enthusiastic however, describing the system as ‘outdated’ and ‘misguided’. Head of Industrial Relations Maeve McElwee insisted ‘We now have more than 40 pieces of legislation to protect workers and a national minimum wage. There is no justification for extra wage-setting rules in specific sectors’.

 

Recent rulings from the European Court of Justice

Death does not put an end to annual leave

‘Morbid obesity’ can be disability

Having ruled on the various circumstances intertwining sick and annual leave (see past issues) the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has now pronounced on the ultimate situation: death. A Mr. Bollacke was employed by Klaas & Kock B.V. & Co. in Germany from 1998 until his death in 2010. At this point, having been seriously ill for some time, he was entitled to 140.5 days leave arrears. His widow applied for an allowance in lieu of the lost leave but was rejected by the company and the German Federal Labour court which held that this right did not apply where death had ended the employment relationship. However the ECJ disagreed on the basis of the European Directive on Working Time of 2003 which puts no condition on compensation for untaken leave.
Karsten Kaltoft had been working as a child-minder for fifteen years when his employment was terminated by Billund Council in Denmark. Although the fact that he weighed over 25 stones and had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 54 was not given as the reason for his dismissal, it was discussed at his hearing. Mr. Kaltoft brought a case against the council on the grounds of unlawful discrimination. The Advocate General of the ECJ, who makes preliminary rulings, pointed out that there is no specific reference to obesity in the EU Equality directive, which prohibits discrimination against disabled workers. However disability has been defined by the court as ‘limitations which result from long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments’. He considered a BMI of over 40 can be such a disability as it can make work tasks more difficult. Employers thus must carry out ‘reasonable measures’ to accommodate the disabled worker. He added that the cause of the disability was irrelevant.




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