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Bruton will face down Labour TDs over reform of pay rates

ENTERPRISE Minister Richard Bruton will face down opposition from Labour TDs by going ahead with his plans to reform pay agreements for low-paid workers.

He appeared before the Labour parliamentary party for the first time in his new role, in response to complaints that he was on a drive to "undermine" workers' wages in the hotel, restaurant and retail sectors.

The 75-minute meeting yesterday was described by TDs afterwards as "robust" and one where there were "strong feelings".

But Mr Bruton said afterwards that he was still confident that Labour TDs would back his reform plans.

"Obviously, reform is difficult. If it wasn't, it would have been done years ago. But I think Government is determined to move ahead and I think that applies to both parties in the Government," he said.

Mr Bruton will bring his reform proposals to Cabinet next Tuesday in what has been billed as the first potential flashpoint between Fine Gael and Labour ministers.

Mr Bruton also indicated that he planned to change the system of premium pay for Sunday shifts, which employers blame for the fact that 37pc of restaurants are closed on that day.

Labour parliamentary party chairman Jack Wall said his gut feeling was that there is a way forward on the issues at hand.

"Everyone was very appreciative of Richard turning up and many of them shook his hand. People have strong feelings, but that can be done in a proper manner like it was done today," he said.

The State has given a commitment to the IMF, the EU and the ECB to reform the legally binding wage deals for up to 200,000 workers in the hotel, restaurant and retail sectors.

Mr Bruton is tackling the system of wage agreements covered by Joint Labour Committees (JLCs) and Registered Employment Agreements.


Mr Bruton said he wanted to steer a middle course between two camps -- those who wanted to abolish the system of wage agreements and those who wanted no reform whatsoever.

SIPTU has complained that he is planning changes to wage agreements that could cut pay for cleaners at €19,000 while earning €169,000 as a minister.

SIPTU member Debbie Kenny, from Clondalkin in Dublin, said the manufacturing company she worked at for the past seven years was closing down -- and the abolition of JLCs could reduce the pay rates in her next job.

"The jobs that are out there will all be what Minister Bruton calls low-skilled, which I think is a bit of an insult to the people who do these jobs. It's very frightening," she said at a protest outside Mr Bruton's department yesterday.

Irish Independent