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What exactly is collective bargaining? A precise legal definition is on the way

The cabinet have agreed on plans to reform the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001.

The Labour Relations Commission on Haddington Road in Dublin.
The Labour Relations Commission on Haddington Road in Dublin.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

A MORE PRECISE definition of what constitutes engagements between employers and trade unions is to be enacted by the Government to address a legal gap.

The cabinet have agreed on plans to reform the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001 and include a definition of collective bargaining which was the subject of a disagreement between the Supreme Court and the Labour Court.

Generally speaking, collective bargaining refers to industrial relations negotiations about pay.

In 2007, the Supreme Court found that the Labour Court cannot conclude that a trade dispute is in existence without first establishing that collective bargaining is in place and that internal machinery (if any) for resolving the perceived problem has been exhausted.

The 2001 act did not have a specific definition for collective bargaining and as a result the Supreme Court found that the Labour Court should have used the dictionary definition rather than the industrial relations concept.

The draft text of the new amendment has not yet been published but it is proposed that collective bargaining will be defined as:

Collective bargaining comprises voluntary engagements or negotiations between any employer or employers’ organisation on the one hand and a trade union of workers or excepted body on the other, with the object of reaching agreement regarding working conditions or terms of employment or non-employment of workers.

Other provisions

The drive to reform the act was pushed for by the Labour Party and was a commitment that was made in the Programme for Government.

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It will also include provisions that will seek to help the Labour Court identify if internal bargaining bodies are genuinely independent of their employer.

Provisions are also to be included to ensure that remuneration and terms and conditions are looked at in their totality, with a limit on the frequency reassessments.

“In developing these proposals, I have been keen to respect the positions of both sides of industry,” Minister for Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation, Richard Bruton said today.

They will retain our voluntary system of industrial relations, but also ensure that workers have confidence that, where there is no collective bargaining, they have an effective system that ensures they can air problems about remuneration, terms and conditions and have these determined based on those in similar companies and not be victimised for doing so.

The legislation will also seek to improve protections for employees victimised for seeking trade union support. The proposals point out that such victimisation takes several forms outside of termination including reduced access to particular work, training opportunities, shift work and overtime ect.

Read: SIPTU told to pay DAA and Ryanair’s legal fees over strike injunction >

Read: National strike of electricians could halt construction and manufacturing >

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Rónán Duffy

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