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Dispute: Business Minister Heather Humphreys issued the sectoral employment order. 
Photo: Steve Humphreys

Dispute: Business Minister Heather Humphreys issued the sectoral employment order. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Dispute: Business Minister Heather Humphreys issued the sectoral employment order. Photo: Steve Humphreys

EMPLOYERS at smaller electrical contractors could be criminalised or lose their businesses under a law creating a new arrangement for setting pay levels and benefits for electricians, the High Court has heard.

The National Electrical Contractors of Ireland (NECI) has brought the challenge over a Labour Court recommendation last year to Business Minister Heather Humphreys to issue a sectoral employment order (SEO) covering minimum hourly rates of pay and other matters.

The minister, following approval from the Houses of the Oireachtas, subsequently issued the SEO.

The High Court, pending determination of the full case, has stayed part of the minister's decision in relation to the pension and sick pay contributions aspects of the SEO. The court refused a stay on a 2.7pc wage increase, working time and dispute procedures.

The SEO arose following an application from trade unions and associations representing electricians. The NECI mainly represents smaller employer contractors outside Dublin.

The NECI is seeking a declaration that the Labour Court breached its duties, including in relation to transparency in its decisions, before making the recommendation to the minister. It claims there was a duty to act in compliance with the Constitution and with natural justice. It also should have provided clear reasons for its decisions, it is claimed.

The claims are denied by the Labour Court, the minister and the Attorney General.

On the opening day of a remote hearing of the case, Helen Callanan SC, for the NECI, said part of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act of 2015 replaced the old "registered employment agreements" with SEOs.

There was no supervisory role for the Oireachtas in this new regime. This was not primary but secondary legislation because it was recommended by a committee and then passed by the Oireachtas with no input from the Oireachtas thereafter, she said.

"This is a very dangerous situation for employers and employees, and little did we know the country would be in the middle of a shutdown and these employers cannot reduce wages," she said.

This was unlike many other sectors, including the law and business, where remuneration has had to be reduced to reflect the current situation.

Counsel said that ultimately if the employer fails or refuses to comply with SEOs requiring higher payments to employees, they could face up to six months in prison following enforcement proceedings which would be taken in the District Court. The alternative is to pay the increases and go out of business, counsel said.

The case continues.

Irish Independent