That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to give statutory effect to recommendations of the Labour Court in relation to pay and conditions in certain sectors of the economy; and to provide for connected matters.
A recent High Court judgment struck down the sectoral employment order, SEO, system for the electrical contracting sector and also the statutory framework for other such orders as set out in Chapter 3 of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015. The judgment has had a chilling effect on the conduct of industrial relations in this country. It is a far-reaching judgment and there may be consequences outside the immediate subject area of the actual Bill. The judgment must be appealed to the Supreme Court because there are very significant issues of public interest at hand.
Since 1908 under the old Trade Boards Act and later under an Act of the Oireachtas enacted in 1946, it has been the policy of the State to provide a framework for sectoral collective bargaining to promote decent pay, terms and conditions above the statutory basic minima in areas of the economy that were susceptible to low pay, exploitation and where trade union density may be patchy or non-existent. Chapter 3 of the 2015 Act, on the SEO system, which was the subject of the recent High Court ruling and was deemed to be in conflict with Bunreacht na hÉireann, was designed to address deficiencies in the role of the Oireachtas in the making of the former registered employment agreements, as found in what is known as the McGowan judgment of 2013. The High Court has now judged, in the National Electrical Contractors of Ireland, NECI, v. the Labour Court, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Attorney General, that, in essence, the Minister and the Labour Court are exercising the legislative power of the State by making laws giving effect to the terms of the three purported sectoral employment orders without being the Oireachtas.
The Industrial Relations (Sectoral Employment Orders Confirmation) Bill 2020 seeks immediately to remedy this defect by giving statutory effect to the recommendations of three purported sectoral employment orders covering tens of thousands of electricians and construction workers across all kinds of grades and categories and, indeed, mechanical engineers and related disciplines too. In other words, the terms of these three orders that were struck down essentially by the High Court can under the proposed legislation be converted into primary law with the blessing of both Houses of the Oireachtas to address some of these significant defects identified by the High Court.
The programme for Government is virtually silent, sadly, on the whole question of workers' rights and their advancement. Since its foundation, the State has expressed it to be desirable that there should be space to allow unions and employers to engage in sectorally applicable and enforceable agreements across entire economic sectors in order to support the principle of decent work, avoid a damaging race to the bottom and promote a level playing pitch for good, compliant businesses. This Bill continues in that tradition. Its ambitions have the support of the trade union movement. It is urgent for tens of thousands of workers across the construction sector and related disciplines and for our economy. I am hopeful the Government will see fit to support this legislation when it is tabled for Second Stage debate shortly.