I thank all nine Members who spoke on the Bill today - Senators Nash, Bacik, O'Mahony, Davitt, Craughwell, Gavan, Warfield, Higgins and Norris. I noted their contributions and their concerns. I particularly thank Senator Nash for the work he has done on this Bill, and also his co-sponsor, Senator Bacik.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' Bill. Having listened to the opening speeches, I know the sponsors worked hard in bringing this proposed Bill before the House. A great deal of work has been done in the preparation of this Private Members' Bill and as Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation with responsibility for employment affairs, I commend the Senators accordingly.
I also appreciate and understand the reasoning behind this Bill, in that it seeks to remedy what the Senators perceive to be a fault in the industrial relations mechanism. I note that the stated purpose of this Bill is give statutory powers of appointment to the Labour Court in the process for setting up a joint labour committee.
Joint labour committees are bodies established under the Industrial Relations Acts to provide machinery for fixing statutory minimum rates of pay and conditions of employment for employees across various sectors. They may be set up by the Labour Court on the application of the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, a trade union or any organisation claiming to be representative of such workers or such employers.
The joint labour committees' wage-setting mechanisms provide a framework within which employers and employee representatives, through the joint labour committee system, can come together voluntarily and negotiate terms and conditions of workers in their respective sectors. Once agreed, and once the Minister of the day has approved and accepted the approach taken by the Labour Court in approving the recommendation, the terms and conditions are given effect by way of ministerial order, known as an employment regulation order, ERO, for the sector. Currently, EROs are in place for the contract cleaning and security industries.
The word "voluntary" has been mentioned by many Senators here today. It is precisely the voluntary nature of parties coming together to agree terms and make commitments which underpins, validates and gives strength to the resulting employment regulation orders.
In should be noted that a revised framework for wage setting under the joint labour committee framework was introduced through the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 provided a new statutory framework for establishing minimum rates of remuneration, pension and sick pay, in the form of sector employment orders. That Industrial Relations Act also ensured that where an employer does not engage in collective bargaining, an effective framework exists that allows a trade union to have the remuneration and terms and conditions of its members assessed against relevant comparators and determined in a binding way by the Labour Court. This has been successfully used by trade unions, and this Government will continue to support the important role that trade unions play in our society.
The 2015 Act was the culmination of a process of in-depth consultation with stakeholders, including employer and worker representatives, and included a review of the experience of the operation of the existing legislative framework as put in place under the Industrial Relations Acts 2001 and 2004.
It is important to note a joint labour committee is composed of equal numbers of representatives of employers and workers in an employment sector. The committee meets under an independent chairman, an industrial relations officer of the Workplace Relations Commission, appointed by the Minister, to discuss and agree proposals for terms and conditions to apply to specified grades or categories of workers in the sector concerned.
Where parties fail to reach agreement or do not engage in process, the Act allows the chairperson to refer the matter to the Labour Court. The Labour Court will then make a recommendation on the matter.
Our laws do not try to impose a solution on parties to a trade dispute but rather are designed to help support the parties in resolving their differences. The State has, by and large, confined its role to underpinning voluntarism through the provision of a framework and institutions through which good industrial relations can prosper. Unfortunately, this Bill fails to properly appreciate the tried and trusted voluntary nature of industrial relations in Ireland and does not try to achieve a sense of balance or reasonableness. That sense of balance is extremely important for us all.
I must again emphasise that Ireland's system of industrial relations is essentially voluntary in nature and that responsibility for the resolution of industrial disputes between employers and workers rests in the first instance with the employer, the workers and their representatives.
For its part, the State provides the industrial relations dispute settlement mechanisms to support parties in their efforts to resolve their differences. Deputies across the board will agree-----