The company to which the Senator refers, EPACE, is a private company, which is limited by guarantee and established under the aegis of the National Joint Industrial Council for the Electrical Contracting Industry by employer and worker representatives. Its main objective is to advise electrical contractors of their responsibilities under the registered employment agreement, REA, for the electrical industry and it also carries out inspections of electrical contractors to ensure compliance with the agreement.
While the organisation does not have statutory authority under employment rights legislation to undertake such inspections, electrical contractors in the past have been willing to facilitate, and co-operate with, these arrangements. I am not in a position to comment in detail regarding the operations of EPACE Limited because it is a private limited company and neither my Department nor I have a role, representation or interest in it. It is an arrangement that was established by the parties to the registered employment agreement.
It is worth pointing out, by way of background, that a registered employment agreement, REA, is a collective agreement arrived at in one of two ways. It may be made between a trade union or unions and an individual employer or employers' organisation or, alternatively, it may be made by a registered joint industrial council. Such an agreement relates to the pay or conditions of employment of any class, type or group of workers and has been registered with the Labour Court under the Industrial Relations Act 1946. The effect of registration is to make the provisions of an REA binding not only on the trade unions and employers involved in its negotiation but also on others who were not party to its negotiation but who are in the categories covered by the agreement.
In general, an REA can deal with any matter that comes under the general heading of pay or conditions of employment. It may provide for the variation of any of its provisions. Each REA must contain a disputes procedure that is binding. The registration of employment agreements, such as the electrical contracting industry REA, is a matter for the Labour Court, as provided for in the Industrial Relations Act 1946. It is important to state that I do not have any role either in regard to the registration of registered employment agreements.
As with other REAs, enforcement of the provisions of the REA for the electrical sector is effected through the Labour Court under the industrial relations legislation. I understand the Labour Court recently considered an application to cancel the registration of the agreement covering the electrical contracting sector and that the application was rejected by the court. Accordingly, the REA remains a minimum legal standard for the sector, against which failure to comply is an offence.
The National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, is the body charged with promoting and ensuring compliance with employment rights legislation, including those statutory rights derived from registered employment agreements. Under the Industrial Relations Act 1990, NERA inspectors are empowered to inspect records, recover arrears and, if necessary, institute civil proceedings on behalf of workers if they are not receiving the minimum pay and conditions of employment laid down in an REA.
While NERA currently does not have a formal relationship with EPACE, it does investigate complaints referred to it by any person and, in so doing, it may also examine information furnished by EPACE on alleged breaches of the REA for the electrical contracting sector.
Senator Healy Eames referred to section 45 of the Employment Law Compliance Bill, as published last year. It is intended to support and enhance monitoring and inspection activity in regard to compliance with the REA in the electrical contracting industry. This section gives legal effect to commitments entered into under the social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, to complement the work of NERA on compliance with the REA in the electrical contracting sector.
Specifically, the Bill provides that the director of NERA can enter into a service agreement with bodies as may be approved by the director of NERA with the consent of the Minister. The service agreement would prescribe the operational arrangements to obtain between NERA and the approved body regarding the conduct by that body of inspection activity in regard to the electrical REA. In essence, the provision gives legal standing to the relationship between NERA and any such approved body.
Section 45, as drafted, does not prevent any individual pursuing his or her legal entitlements through NERA or any of the employment rights bodies. It simply recognises that, in the case of the electrical contracting sector, there are specific arrangements on the administration of the REA that predate the establishment of NERA and which were put in place by the parties to the REA themselves.
The Bill as published does not envisage any prosecutorial role for any approved body and that role will continue as currently through NERA or the other employment rights bodies or by the parties to the REA. In that sense, the Bill does not propose different enforcement standards for the REA in the electrical sector compared with those that obtain in other sectors. I am aware there are different views within the electrical contracting sector on the role of EPACE and the value of the registered employment agreements. I am open to hearing such views in the context of the Employment Law Compliance Bill and I am equally interested in hearing the views of Senators on the subject. I am sure there will be ample opportunity to debate this issue in greater detail when the Bill comes to this House, which I expect will be before the summer.
This issue was raised a number of times in the context of the Second Stage Dáil debate on the Employment Law Compliance Bill. Various views were expressed and this issue was raised forcefully. We will have ample opportunity to discuss it and we can listen to the arguments put forward by Oireachtas Members on the issue.