MINISTER for Enterprise Batt O'Keeffe is preparing to attack one of the key perks of social partnership and remove a stronghold of trade union and employer patronage.
The Minister has instructed his Department to break the social partners' stranglehold over the appointment of rights commissioners -- the well-paid positions in the gift of trade unions and employers under successive partnership deals. Legislation is now being prepared.
The minister is known to be "very concerned" that these appointments have been the sole preserve of the social partnership-dominated LRC for over 20 years.
It is understood that Mr O'Keeffe's decision to reform the system was prompted by a recent arrival of names on his desk which he was expected to rubber-stamp as rights commissioners.
Rights commissioners are paid at least €434 a day and are entitled to generous travel and subsistence pay. Their brief is to investigate disputes, grievances and claims that individuals or small groups of workers bring to them. Many commissioners have earned more than €100,000 a year.
The number of rights commissioners increased to 15 under recent partnership agreements following pressure from both unions and employers/social partner, Ibec.
Last night, a spokesman at the Labour Relations Commission, which puts forward the names of candidates for the jobs to the minister, said that there were nearly always an equal number of union and Ibec members in the posts.
The minister told the Sunday Independent that there was a need for a fairer and more transparent system of appointment to such well-paid positions.
He now intends to remove the nominations from the grip of top trade unionists and employers' groups and hand them over to open competition.
"I believe that it should be open to the general public to apply for positions through the Public Appointments Commission and the recruitment process should be handled by an independent panel of experts with relevant expertise."
The news of the minister's move will come as a blow to leading trades unionists who have long jealously guarded their influence over the workings of the Labour Relations Commission.
Trade unionists with long service to social partnership have landed in the posts of rights commissioner.
Among their number are ex-CPSU apparatchik Rosaleen Glackin, former top dog at Ictu Joan Carmichael and one-time secretary of Ictu's Women's Committee, Gaye Cunningham.
The Labour Relations Commission is run by Kieran Mulvey, former secretary of the Secondary Teachers Union and one-time Fianna Fail nominee for a Dail seat.
Its board is dominated by representatives from both Ibec and Ictu, including former Fas chairman and Impact union boss Peter McLoone.
Sunday Indo Business