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The Legislative Programme of a New Government May Include a Focus on Important Employment Issues of

The next Programme for Government will likely see a significant legislative focus on a range of employment issues in the areas of flexible working, pensions and even collective bargaining rights.

(a) On pensions, the State Pension and retirement age featured significantly in the campaign with the main political parties making commitments about the level of the State Pension and increasing the age at which it becomes payable.

Fianna Fáil made significant commitments to protect Defined Benefit pensions and stated that “…We will legislate to ensure no solvent company can wind up their pension without permission from the pension authority.” The party promised to establish a commission on pensions and to reinstate the State pension (transition) as an interim measure, to be paid to those who are not yet entitled to the State Pension and are aged 65 and over and to defer the retirement age increase set for 2021 and to outlaw contracts that stipulate a retirement age of 65. It promised to increase the State Pension by €25 per week.

Sinn Féin committed to stopping the planned pension age increase to 67 in 2021 and to reintroduce the State Pension for 65-year olds who choose to retire. They intend to prohibit mandatory retirement, and to reduce the pensions earnings limit and reduce the Standard Fund Threshold to €1.2 m.

Fine Gael stated the increase in State Pension ages will continue, moving to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028. The party would engage with employers and unions under the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) to reassess the pace at which the State Pension age is to be raised. A new State Transition Pension would be introduced for those retiring at 66 to be paid at the higher State Contributory Pension rate. For those retiring at 65 there would be a new State Pathway Pension to maintain the current level of social welfare allowance but without the requirement to meet jobseeker criteria of actively seeking work and signing on.

(b) Commitments were made by parties on collective bargaining and further reforms of the Joint Labour Committee (JLC) system. For example , Sinn Féin propose to –

  • “guarantee everyone the right to be represented at work by a trade union, and employers will be required to negotiate with their employee’s representatives.”….and to introduce

  • “a legal requirement on employers to recognise authorised trade unions in receipt of a negotiating licence, for the purposes of collective bargaining and individual representation”, and a

  • “domestic Trade Union Rights Act that includes the right to collective bargaining and advocating for an EU Directive including same.”

  • Other commitments include: Restoring tax relief on trade union dues; Legal protection for at source deduction of union subscriptions; reform of strike laws to reduce legal interference in the rights of workers taking collective action; outlawing the black listing of trade unionists by making it unlawful to compile, use, sell or supply blacklists containing details of people who are or have been union members or who are taking part, or have taken part, in trade union activities, an industrial action or strike; and enabling workers to take action promptly where a unionised colleague is sacked.

These commitments are being made without a full understanding of the implications for our voluntarist IR system or for our competitive position. The new Government should avoid the inclination over recent years to politicise workplace policy in preference for measures which are evidence based. It will need to be more cognisant of the potential damaging implications of legislative change in the sensitive area of collective bargaining that would undermine the voluntarist principle and jeopardise investment in Ireland.

Stratis has been clear that with the emergence of diverse engagement models and whilst there are many examples of enduring relationships between individual employers and unions fashioned through voluntarily agreed collective bargaining arrangements, mandatory collective bargaining cannot become the default model for engagement in the Irish workplace. Most employees expect high levels of engagement and will not be motivated to work in an environment where this is a passing commitment. This can be achieved through a variety of models, just one of which involves voluntary collective bargaining. Too often our regulatory system ignores the legitimacy of the direct engagement model which is practised by most private sector employers. The important role and function of trade unions is fully acknowledged through voluntary collective bargaining. However, our workplace relations system needs to acknowledge that where responsible employers are implementing progressive HR and engagement practices with market based and competitive remuneration, they should not face a default outcome from third party processes to adopt a collective model of representation.

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