Wednesday 24 January 2018

Emergency laws on cards to protect low-paid workers

Fionnan Sheahan and Dearbhail McDonald

THE Government is considering emergency legislation to protect 200,000 low-paid workers after the High Court yesterday ruled that the system for setting minimum wages is unconstitutional.

Low-paid workers already on contracts fixed under the Joint Labour Committee (JLC) system, which was overturned by the court yesterday, can not have their pay changed.

But workers who renew or take up new employment contracts in areas including catering, hotels, restaurants and hairdressing will receive lower rates of pay and inferior working conditions after the court case.

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton is consulting with the Attorney General Maire Whelan on an interim solution to "protect vulnerable workers".

Mr Bruton is already looking at reforming the JLC system and said the outcome of the case "underlines" the need for changes.

"It does support the view that I have taken," he said.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Sinn Fein enterprise spokesman Peadar Toibin called on the Government to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.


But Mr Bruton did not commit to appealing the decision.

While the High Court action related to catering workers, the outcome has implications for all workers whose minimum pay and conditions are set under the impugned JLC system.

The comprehensive defeat for the Government, which defended the JLCs, is in fact a major boost for Mr Bruton, who is set to reform wage-setting mechanisms governing pay and conditions for workers in a host of low-paid sectors, including hospitality and retail.

The reforms could see cuts in overtime and premium rates of pay, including Sunday working pay rates, for low-paid workers.

The High Court ruled the JLC system of setting wages for lower-paid workers was unconstitutional following a legal challenge by fast-food outlets.

The action was taken by John Grace Fried Chicken Ltd, of Cook Street, Cork; its operator John Grace; and the Quick Service Food Alliance (QSFA) Ltd, also of Cook Street, Cork, which represents the interests of owners of fast-food restaurants including Subway, Abrakebabra, Supermac's and Burger King.

The action was against the Catering JLC, the Labour Court and the State.

The operators had claimed the system allowed for the setting of wage rates higher than the national minimum wage, Sunday pay rates higher than those set under the Organisation of Working Time Act and more favourable working conditions.

Yesterday, High Court Judge Kevin Feeney upheld their claims that the measures were put in place in the absence of any policy guidelines from the Oireachtas in breach of their property rights and rights to fair procedures.

Employers' group IBEC welcomed yesterday's ruling which, it claimed, was needed to get people back to work and to ensure a flexible and competitive labour market.

Irish Independent

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