We are pleased to have been the first Government to introduce national minimum wage legislation to tackle the issue of low pay. The National Minimum Wage Act, 2000, came into force on 1 April 2000 and the national minimum hourly rate of pay has been set at £4.40. An ESRI impact study published in June 1999 estimated that 163,000 employees, particularly women and young workers, would benefit from the introduction of the legislation.
The national minimum hourly rate of pay can be increased by ministerial order following acceptance of a recommendation contained in a national agreement. The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness contains a recommendation from the social partners to increase the national minimum hourly rate of pay to IR£4.70 on 1 July 2001 and IR£5.00 on 1 October 2002. The Government has accepted the recommendation and the Tánaiste has signed the necessary order.
Where there is no national agreement in place the legislation does provide that any organisation, which is substantially representative of employees or employers, can request the Labour Court to examine the national minimum hourly rate of pay.
The Labour Court cannot consider this request unless 12 months have elapsed since the Minister last declared a national minimum hourly rate of pay. In conducting such an examination the Labour Court would undertake appropriate consultations and if satisfied that there was agreement as to the appropriate hourly rate of pay, the court would make a recommendation to the Minister.
In the event that there was no such agreement, the court is empowered to make a recommendation having regard to a number of factors, including the movement in earnings of employees since the Minister last declared the national minimum hourly rate of pay.