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Bruton confident of Labour's backing for low-paid reforms

ENTERPRISE Minister Richard Bruton yesterday said he was confident Labour backbenchers would support his "radical reform" of pay agreements for low-paid workers.

He provoked furious opposition in the Labour Party last month with proposals to cut Sunday premium pay in agreements that cover up to 250,000 workers in the hotel, restaurant and retail sector.

Mr Bruton said yesterday he would be bringing his "radical reform" proposals to Cabinet next week -- and would be willing to explain them to a meeting of the Labour parliamentary party.

"I think there is a wide understanding that change is needed. They are systems that were developed many years ago, they have outlived their usefulness in some areas," he said.

Mr Bruton's original proposals included the abolition of the right to premium pay for Sunday shifts for many workers covered by legally binding wage deals such as employment regulation orders and registered employment agreements.

Unions argued workers could not afford further cuts in income; employers claimed that the cost of premium payments meant 37pc of restaurants were closed on Sunday.

It led to the first public rift in the Coalition, with Labour ministers emerging to say that no decision had been taken. At the official opening of Irish social networking company SkillPages in Blackrock, Dublin, yesterday, Mr Bruton said he agreed that wage agreements to protect people on low pay had to be maintained.


"It's to reform and modernise the system, not to abandon it," he said.

Labour Galway East TD Colm Keaveney said he would be concerned about any proposals that would reduce workers' income.

"It's about people's capacity to put the lunch in the lunchbox of their child. This isn't an ideological issue, this is an economic issue," he said. Mr Bruton's meeting with Labour TDs is likely to take place tomorrow -- before he brings his proposals to the Cabinet next week.

Mr Keaveney said he had full confidence the Cabinet would make the right decision. "I am confident there will be a political resolution to this problem," he said.

The United Left Alliance TDs are seeking to embarrass the Labour TDs by forcing them to vote on a Dail motion this week calling for no change to any JLC or REA pay agreements.

And it said any Labour TDs who did not support it would "be in breach of the principle of solidarity with the lower paid and the best traditions of (Jim) Larkin and (James) Connolly".

Irish Independent