I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 17:—
In page 13, Section 33 deleted, and the following section substituted:—
( ) (1) The court may at any time, on the application of any person, give its decision on any question as to the interpretation of a registered employment agreement or its application to a particular person.
(2) A court of law, in determining any question arising in proceedings before it as to the interpretation of a registered employment agreement or its application to a particular person, shall have regard to any decision of the court on the said agreement referred to it in the course of the proceedings.
(3) If any question arises in proceedings before a court of law as to the interpretation of a registered employment agreement or its application to a particular person, the court of law may, if it thinks proper, refer the question to the court for its decision, and the decision of the court thereon shall be final.
The provision in the Bill which required that all matters relating to the interpretation or the application of a registered agreement would be determined finally by the labour court caused considerable discussion in the Seanad. It was even suggested there that the clause in the Bill was repugnant to the Constitution, which provides that justice shall be administered in courts of law set up by the Constitution. While I do not think that opinion was well-founded, it is considered that the functions proposed to be conferred on the labour court should be modified so as to avoid any possible legal proceedings on that ground. While I have no doubt that any court interpreting the Constitution would necessarily have to hold that Article 37 of the Constitution makes ample provision for the establishment of a court of this character, it was not necessary for the purpose of the Bill that the matter should be determined finally in the courts. It was decided, therefore, to suggest to the Seanad the modification of the section in the form now proposed in this amendment.
The effect of the amendment is to provide, first, that any person may go at any time to the labour court for an interpretation of an employment agreement. If proceedings arise in a court of law, in the course of which the interpretation of an agreement may be in question, then any person who has received an authoritative interpretation in the labour court can produce it in the court of law, which must have due regard to it in any decision arrived therein. Furthermore, if in the course of a hearing of a case before a court of law, the court should desire to obtain the opinion of the labour court on the interpretation of a registered agreement, it may refer the agreement to the labour court for interpretation and in such circumstances the decision of the labour court will be final.
These provisions cover the main part, if not all, of the objective we had in mind in the original section of the Bill. They do not eliminate completely the possibility of conflicting interpretations being placed upon registered agreements by courts of law and the labour court. The only case, however, where such a conflict of interpretation might arise would be where nobody had obtained an authoritative interpretation of an agreement from the labour court or, having obtained it, had not produced it in the court in the case in which the question of interpretation arose. Any decision of a court of law, however, which might be contrary to the interpretation which the labour court would put upon the registered agreement in question would apply in the single case only; and if it should prove likely to cause embarrassment to the workers or employers concerned, they could proceed to the labour court for the purpose of getting an authoritative interpretation, which would be available in the case of any similar proceedings arising in future in a court of law. As I have said, the amendment achieves by far the greater part of what we had in mind and avoids the Constitutional issue which was raised during the course of the Seanad discussions.