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. I welcome the Tánaiste and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and her officials to the meeting. In accordance with Dáil Standing Order 84(A)(4)(k) and Seanad Standing Order 71(3)(k), the Sectoral Employment Order (Construction Sector) 2017 in draft was referred to the committee by orders of both Houses on 26 September 2017. The committee has been asked to send a message to both Houses not later than 12 October stating it has completed its consideration of the order. Members have been circulated with a briefing document prepared by the Department. I invite the Minister to make her opening statement.
Sectoral Employment Order (Construction Sector) 2017: Motion
I am pleased to present the draft sectoral employment order for the construction sector for the committee's consideration.
The draft ministerial order is being made under section 17 of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 - the first order made under that Act - and the intention is that the order will confirm the rates of pay, pension and sick pay entitlements for craftsmen, general operatives and apprentices in the construction sector.
In November 2016, the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, asked the Labour Court to examine the terms and conditions of workers engaged in the construction sector. The court advertised its intention to undertake an examination of the CIF request and it invited submissions. Four submissions were received, from the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Unite the union and the trustees of the construction workers' pension scheme. All submissions supported the application by the CIF before the court. Subsequently, the court convened a hearing on the matter and the parties that had made written submissions also made oral submissions. Following this, and being satisfied that making a recommendation would promote harmonious relations between workers and employers and assist in the avoidance of industrial unrest in the construction sector, the Labour Court submitted a recommendation to the Minister on 13 July 2017.
The recommendation has been considered by the Minister in line with the terms of the legislation and the court was notified in August that the Minister was accepting the recommendation. In making the recommendation the Labour Court must consider the factors under section 16(2) of the Act. These include the potential impact of the making of an order on the levels of employment and unemployment in the identified economic sector, the impact it might have on competitiveness in the economic sector concerned and that the sectoral employment order would be binding on all workers and employers in that economic sector. The 2015 Act requires the Minister, within six weeks of receipt of the Labour Court recommendation, either to accept or reject the recommendation and to make an order to give legal effect to the terms of the recommendation. The Act provides that the order must come to this committee and to the Houses for the approval of both Houses before it can be made.
A draft of the order was laid before the Houses on 22 August 2017, as required by section 17(4) of the Act, but due to the summer recess the approval of the Houses could not be obtained at that time. However, a commitment was given that the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas would be sought at the earliest opportunity. I thank the committee in this regard. Clearly, we are anxious to maintain stability in employment terms and conditions in the construction sector. I hope the committee will refer the order back to both Houses for approval so that we can bring the order into effect as soon as possible. It is desirable and hugely in the interests of harmonious industrial relations in the construction sector to have the order confirmed at the earliest possible date. When the order comes into effect, its terms will be binding across the sector and enforceable by the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC.
There are no questions on the briefing and the members are happy with the order. That completes the committee's consideration of the Sectoral Employment Order (Construction Sector) 2017.
I wish to make a brief comment. We should note that the new unemployment figure is down to 6.1%. I urge the Department to continue its work. Obviously, there will be challenges ahead in this regard and in respect of a tightening jobs market. Overall, given where we have come from, it is good to have the unemployment rate down to 6.1%. I realise that when it gets down to 5%, it is considered full employment and that will entail challenges, but I believe it is important to note that figure today.
That is noted.