Published 27/05/2011 | 05:00
Q: What is all the fuss about?
A: There is a major threat to the pay rates and employment conditions of more than 250,000 workers in some of the biggest sectors of the economy, including retail, construction, hotels, hairdressing, and contract cleaning.
Q: Why is there a threat to their pay?
A: The Government made a commitment in its bailout deal with the IMF and EU to review legally binding minimum pay rates and conditions of employment in dozens of sectors. The review is still on-going. Employers are lobbying the Government to abolish agreements that lay down these rates and conditions.
They claim they are costing jobs because they cannot afford them.
Unions argue that the deals are crucial to protect low-paid workers.
Q: Have these pay rates got anything to do with the national minimum wage?
A: They are separate to the €7.65-an-hour national minimum wage and the pay rates are higher, but vary from sector to sector.
However, employers want to get rid of them so that the national minimum wage would be the minimum rate they would have to pay.
The Government made a separate commitment in the bailout deal to cut the national minimum wage, which affects far fewer workers -- estimated at around 47,000.
This cut was made by the previous government but the new Coalition has promised to reverse it back to an €8.65-an-hour rate.
Q: What are these legally binding pay rates and conditions?
A: They are known as Employment Regulation Orders (EROs) and Registered Employment Agreements (REAs), and they apply to individual economic sectors.
EROs operate differently to the REAs, and are drawn up by Joint Labour Committees (JLCs), composed of employer and union representatives.
Proposals on rates of pay and other conditions that the JLCs agree are given force of law by the Labour Court.
There are 13 JLCs for sectors that include retail and hotels.
Employers and unions in any sector or business, who agree rates of pay and conditions, can register these deals as REAs with the Labour Court.
There are 68 REAs, which include sectoral agreements for construction, drapery and footwear, electrical contracting and the printing industry.
Q: What did the independent review say?
A: It said the deals should be kept, which angered employers but was welcomed by unions.
However, it sought a radical overhaul of the wage-setting system including making overtime, which has varied between time-and-a-half and treble time, and Sunday premium payments more uniform.
Q: Is this what will happen?
A: We do not know yet.
The Government will ultimately make that decision and has set a deadline to come up with an action plan by July 1.
Q: How does this affect existing employees?
A: No easy answer here and this issue could end up in the courts.
Existing employees could argue that they are protected by the terms of their written contracts and cannot have an effective pay cut, unless they agree to it.
But new employees would be subject to the changes, if approved by Government.
Employees with no written contracts will also face an uphill struggle if employers argue that those employees are subject to whatever EROs or ERAs exist at any given time.