Tuesday 21 November 2017

Workers on low pay stand to lose Sunday bonus

Bruton unveils radical wage reforms

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

LOW-paid workers will lose their right to Sunday bonus pay and their basic wage rates are likely to be reduced, as controversial reforms of the wage-setting system for 200,000 workers in the catering, hotels, retail, grocery and contract cleaning sectors covered by the Joint Labour Committees (JLCs) were finally announced yesterday.

The reforms are regarded as an embarrassing defeat for the Labour Party, which had attacked Jobs Minister Richard Bruton when he proposed such changes.

Mr Bruton openly admitted the changes agreed by the coalition will result in lower wages being set in these sectors.

In particular, a new rule means JLCs will have to take account of "factors such as unemployment rates, competitiveness and wage trends here and in our major trading partners. There will be an expectation that higher costs will come down as a result of this", he said.

After coming under fire from Labour, Mr Bruton said the significant reforms of the system "meet the central target I set for myself".

The High Court ruled recently that the JLC agreements were unconstitutional. All the existing JLC agreements will now have to be reviewed.

Mr Bruton insists existing staff will be protected by their present contract, which entitles them to the current rate of pay. In reality though, the changes will result in lower wage rates being set.

New employees will be on the lower rates of pay and this is expected to gradually drag down wages in the entire sector.

The setting of Sunday premium pay under the JLC system is being abolished.

Staff will be entitled to the same protection as other employees for working on a Sunday.

The existing Organisation of Working Time Act allows for staff to be compensated for working on Sunday through the negotiation of extra pay, an increased average wage across the week or a day off in lieu.

Employers will also be allowed to claim an inability to pay the rates agreed to their low-paid staff.

Aside from a basic rate of pay, there will be two higher increments to reflect longer periods of service. But the payment of these higher rates to more experienced staff would be discretionary.

Labour's Gerald Nash said the government proposals were "a welcome development for the lower paid" and party colleague Sean Kenny said the protection of Sunday payments was "a positive move".

But the deal appears to be highly embarrassing for the Labour Party.

The party's official response was a far cry from the six aggressive statements issued in the names of backbenchers when the minister's proposals were originally published.

And unions and employers' groups were not happy with Mr Bruton's plan.

Mandate trade union said the Government had "failed in its obligations to protect the lowest-paid workers in our society today".

The union's general secretary, John Douglas, said the deal was "opportunist and cowardly" and allowed employers to claim an inability to pay the rates agreed and scrap Sunday premium pay.

The employers' representative body, IBEC, said the plan to reintroduce the JLC system was "misguided and unnecessary".

Irish Independent

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