The government has agreed to drop a third bid to set wages and conditions for electrical contractors following a legal challenge by a leading industry body.
Damien English, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Trade and Employment, signed an order last December setting wages, working hours, pension contributions and other conditions for contractors in electricity under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015.
The National Electrical Contractors of Ireland (NECI), which represents small businesses in the sector, subsequently commenced proceedings in the High Court challenging the order on several grounds.
The state’s chief attorney, Maria Brown, recently wrote to the organization confirming that she would consent to an order quashing the statutory instrument when the matter is due to go to court later this month.
Once the court sets aside the order, the terms, compensation and conditions it sets out will no longer be valid.
This is NECI’s third successful challenge to efforts to set wages and conditions in its industry. In 2020, the Supreme Court overturned a similar order issued the previous year following a case brought by the organization. In 2017, unions withdrew a labor court petition after NECI challenged it.
The NECI represents smaller entrepreneurs, mainly based outside Dublin, and was concerned that the terms and conditions of the two orders could push members out of business.
The 2015 law aims to set the conditions of employment in construction. Following a petition from trade unions or employers, the Labor Court can recommend that the Minister issue a “sectoral employment ordinance” governing wages and conditions in a particular industry.
If both Houses of the Oireachtas pass the draft decree, the Minister may issue legislation making the terms of the decree binding on the entire industry.
Last year, the Labor Court recommended that Mr. English make the order governing the electrical contractors following representations from the Connect union, the Association of Electrical Contractors, the Association of Electricity of Ireland, Construction Workers Pension Scheme, NECI and others.
NECI filed its challenge with the High Court in February. The state did not file a response, but wrote to the organization saying it would consent to the court overturning the minister’s order on any of the grounds set out by the industry body.
In a memo to members, the NECI says it has consistently sought fairness and transparency in Labor Court proceedings which led to the introduction of two redundant sectoral employment orders for its industry.
“Despite the efforts of NECI, we have always been of the view that the Labor Court has virtually ignored our concerns,” the memo adds.
“The handling of the sectoral employment order processes to date leaves us still very concerned that the Labor Court may indeed rubber stamp agreements reached between the Electrical Contractors Association, the Connect Union and the construction worker’s pension scheme,” says the NECI.