Sectoral Employment Order (Electrical Contracting Sector) 2017: Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation

I remind members, visitors and those in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off or are on flight mode for the duration of this meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment, even when on silent mode.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

We will now proceed with our consideration of the Sectoral Employment Order (Electrical Contracting Sector) 2019.

In accordance with Dáil Standing Order No. 84A(4)(k) and Seanad Standing Order No. 71(3)(k) and by order of Dáil and Seanad Éireann, the committee has been asked to send a message to the Dáil not later than 30 May and to the Seanad not later than today, stating that it has completed its consideration of the Sectoral Employment Order (Electrical Contracting Sector) 2019. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and his officials to this meeting and thank them for the briefing material provided. I invite him to make his opening statement.

I thank the Cathaoirleach. I am delighted to be back to discuss this sectoral employment order, SEO. I thank members for their attendance and am pleased to present for their consideration a draft SEO for the electrical contracting sector. This draft ministerial order is being made under section 17 of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015. The intention is that this order will confirm the rates of pay, pension and sick pay entitlements for defined workers in the electrical contracting sector. This is the first such order for that sector.

This matter came before the Labour Court by way of application pursuant to section 14 of Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 by the Connect trade union, which represents in excess of 9,800 workers in the sector, the Association of Electrical Contractors Ireland, AECI, which represents 190 electrical contractors employing 2,250 personnel and the Electrical Contractors Association, ECA, which represents 40 electrical contractors employing in excess of 4,000 workers of the class, type or group to which the request relates in the given sector, which they submitted is a "defined economic sector" for the purposes of the 2015 Act.

Having examined the submissions and the accompanying supporting materials, the court was satisfied that the applicants are substantially representative of the workers of the particular class, type or group in the economic sector in respect of which the request is expressed to apply. The court then, as it is required to do, published its intention to undertake an examination of the union and employer’s request and invited submissions from interested persons. Written submissions were received from nine interested parties, namely the AECI, ECA, ECSSA, National Electrical Contractors Ireland, NECI, the Small Firms Association, SFA, the Construction Worker’s Pension Scheme, CWPS, Connect trade union, Dolores Rogers of Kenetic Electrical and Mr. Kieran Fitzpatrick, an individual. Some of the submissions supported the application while others did not. A public hearing was held on 14 March 2019. All interested partied were given an opportunity to be heard. Seven of the nine interested parties attended the hearing and engaged extensively with the court.

Having considered the matter, the Labour Court reached a decision to make a recommendation. In making its recommendation, the court had to consider the factors set out in section 16(2) of the Act. This includes the potential impact of the making of an order on levels of employment and unemployment in the identified economic sector, the potential impact on competitiveness in the economic sector concerned and that the sectoral employment order would be binding on all workers and employers in the economic sector concerned. In accordance with the Act, the recommendation was submitted to me for approval on 23 April 2019. I considered the recommendations in line with the terms of the 2015 Act, relying on the statutory report outlining the Labour Court's deliberative process in reaching its recommendation. I notified the court on 9 May 2019 that I accepted its recommendations.

A draft of the order was laid before the Houses on 9 May 2019 as required by section 17(4) of the 2015 Act. I hope that this committee will recognise the importance of ensuring stability in employment terms and conditions in this sector and will refer the matter back to both Houses for approval so that the order can be given legal effect. When the order comes into effect its terms will be binding across the sector and enforceable by the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. The electrical contracting sector order will become effective on 1 September 2019.

I thank the Minister.

I welcome the Minister of State and his team and I welcome this initiative. It is important that people would have some certainty regading their pay, pension and sick pay entitlements.

I welcome the Minister of State and particularly welcome the pay rise of 2.7%, which will be effective from 1 September. Sinn Féin fully supports this order.

I thank the Minister of State. It is important that the rates of pay, pension and sick pay for defined workers in the electrical contracting sector are defined. As with the SEO that was before us two weeks ago, this order is very welcome because it puts matters on a statutory footing. The Minister of State said that the order will come into effect on 1 September. Is that correct?

Yes, it will come into effect on 1 September, unlike the other recent SEOs which came into effect instantly. The slight delay will give contractors, both large and small, time to adjust to the fact that there will be a pay increase on 1 September. That is important from the perspective of employers.

The terms of the order will be binding across the sector and enforceable by the WRC. Does the WRC have enough staff to ensure that the terms are complied with? I ask this in view of the fact that a few new SEOs have been made recently and this is will create more work for the commission. If the Minister of State does not have the answer to that question now, I would ask-----

I have the answer because we gave the WRC additional resources in the this year's budget-----

-----to deal with all of these matters, including the new responsibilities it will be given under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018, which will bring An Garda Síochána under the remit of the WRC. We ensured in the budget that additional resources would be provided for the WRC. I believe they were in region of €1 million. That will suffice. SEOs have worked well and since the enactment of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015, there has been industrial peace in this country. This is important in the context of increased activity in the construction sector. The demand for housing and commercial building is high and growing and the provisions of the aforementioned Act are important in that context. My role is to ensure that the process, as laid out in the Act, is followed by the Labour Court and I am fully satisfied that this has happened.

I thank the Minister of State for that.

The Minister made reference to An Garda Síochána in the context of the Bill that will be coming before the Dáil tomorrow. Sinn Féin has tabled an amendment to that Bill to provide for the inclusion of the Defence Forces. Has the Minister of State or the senior Minister given any thought to that?

I will comment on that tomorrow. I believe we discussed that issue when the Bill was going through Second or Committee Stage in the House. I do not know if we are in a position to include the Defence Forces yet, but that is an issue that we will consider down the line. The issue was raised this morning by members of the Defence Forces around the country but we will deal with what is on the table at the moment first, which relates to An Garda Síochána.

That completes the committee's consideration of the Sectoral Employment Order (Electrical Contracting Sector) 2019.