News Thomas Molloy

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Richard Bruton's skilful fudge keeps employers and unions happy

Published 14/05/2014 | 02:30

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ALL sides claimed victory last night after the Government published new plans for collective bargaining; a reflection perhaps of just how confusing most of us find industrial relations.

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Employers said cheerfully that nothing has changed, while the unions crowed that they had received a welcome boost. Both can claim victory because there are considerable doubts over how the new system will operate in practice.

The new rules on collective bargaining do not force employees to join unions or force employers to recognise unions, but they do give unions a calling card when they go looking for members in the private sector. We won't really know who has won until we see figures for union membership in a few years' time. Until now, there has been very little reason to sign up to a union if you worked outside the public sector – which probably helps to explain why only one in four private sector workers in Ireland bothers to join one.

Following yesterday's changes, it seems that trade unions, and trade unions alone, will be able to force employers to take some cases to the Labour Court – which will also be able to make legally binding decisions for the first time. That may encourage some workers to pay their dues.

Then again, it may not. Unions will only be able to get involved where employers do not engage in any sort of collective bargaining.

Most employers do bargain even if they don't recognise unions and there is no evidence that the vast majority of employees are unhappy with this system.

The Irish industrial relations landscape is relatively benign and we lose fewer days to strikes than almost any other country in Europe bar Sweden. It seems unlikely that this will change anytime soon.

On balance, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton seems to have done a skilful fudge to keep labour and capital happy.

Ireland will move a little bit closer to the rest of Europe, but still enjoy some of the weakest recognition for trade unions in the western world.

Irish Independent

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