Employers could be forced to increase pay under new plans
The courts will be given the power to force employers to accept recommendations surrounding the pay and conditions of their workers under plans set to be agreed by Cabinet today.
The proposals, which are targeted at employers who refuse to negotiate by way of collective bargaining, are due to be enacted in time for the Dáil's summer recess.
Legislation being brought to Cabinet by Employment Minister Ged Nash will for the first time allow the Labour Court to issue recommendations surrounding pay and conditions which will be enforceable through the Circuit Court.
Trade unions or other recognised groups of employees will have the option of approaching the Labour Court in cases where employers do not engage in collective bargaining.
Under the plans, the Labour Court will examine issues such as pay and sick leave provided by other employers in the relevant industry before making formal recommendations.
The legislation is aimed at ensuring employers agree to come to the negotiation table or else risk the prospect of being hauled before the Circuit Court.
The measures will be of particular interest to workers involved in the Dunnes Stores dispute, which is the biggest seen in the private sector in two decades.
The dispute, which resulted in strike action last month, centres upon issues such as zero-hour contracts, job security, pay and trade union recognition.
Government sources last night said if the new laws surrounding collective bargaining were in place today, unions would be given a clear mechanism aimed at forcing Dunnes Stores management into proper engagement.
"The introduction of a mechanism that is legally enforceable by the Circuit Court is a new layer of protection for workers," a source said.
The legislation being brought by Mr Nash is also aimed at providing greater certainty for staff and businesses through new Registered Employment Agreements.
These are designed to allow workers and employers to apply to the Labour Court to initiate a review of issues such as pay and pension provision in a particular sector.
The Labour Court will then have the authority to make formal recommendations to the Government to make an order in these areas. Where such an order is made, it will be binding across the sector to which it relates.
The order will also be enforceable by the National Employment Rights Authority.
Under the legislation, there are also provisions aimed at preventing workers from being "victimised" by employers.
Workers will be able to apply for direct "relief" from the courts if they can make a case that they are being unfairly treated.
The legislation comes ahead of a report due to be presented to the minister by the Low Pay Commission.
Senior Government figures have said the minimum wage will be increased if the commission recommends such a measure. However, business groups say any such move will damage their members' ability to grow.