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Industrial Relations – SEO Judgment Outcome Will Have Far-Reaching Implications For The Construction Sector

Sectoral Employment Order

– Jean Winters, Director, Industrial Relations and Employment Services, CIF, writes about some of the key industrial relations and human resource management issues the CIF will be working to address in the year ahead.

Sectoral Employment Order

Jean Winters, Director, Industrial Relations and Employment Services, CIF.

The coming year is shaping up to be a very busy one year on the industrial relations and human resource management front. The impact of Covid-19 in terms of managing workers on site will continue into 2021. Third-party hearings and industrial relations issues have been on the rise, and this trend is expected to continue. In the early part of 2021, we are also likely to see a final ruling on the constitutionality of the legislation governing Sectoral Employment Orders (SEOs). The introduction of new employment protective legislation is also being planned by the Government, which will affect the growing number of workers in the industry.

Sectoral Employment Orders

On 23rd June 2020, the High Court ruled that the SEO (Electrical Contracting Sector) 2019 was invalid, and the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 was unconstitutional. The defendants in the case, ie, the Labour Court, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Attorney General, have appealed the judgment in relation to the constitutionality of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015.

On 31st July 2020, the High Court granted a stay on the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015, pending the appeal to the Supreme Court. The impact of this judgment is that the SEO (Construction Sector) 2019 and the SEO (Mechanical Contracting Sector) 2018 will remain enforceable until, at least, the appeal is heard by the Supreme Court. A case management meeting has already taken place, and it is likely that the Supreme Court will hear the case in early 2021.

The effects of the Supreme Court judgment will have far-reaching implications in terms of wage determination in the construction sector. It will also have a significant impact on industrial relations. It is essential that the long-established dispute resolution procedures remain in place regardless of the outcome of this case.

Mechanical Contracting Industry

As the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 remains intact, pending the Supreme Court appeal, the trade unions in the mechanical engineering and building services sector, Connect and Unite, made a joint application to the Labour Court for a new SEO in the mechanical contracting sector. It is envisaged that a hearing into the unions’ application will take place at the Labour Court in early 2021.

New Legislation

Government has stated its commitment to enact legislation to improve social protections for workers:

  • Changes to parents’ leave were announced in Budget 2021. It is intended that the current two-week parents’ benefit will increase to five weeks for each qualifying parent from April 2021. This leave can be taken during the first two years of the child’s life or two years from the date of adoption. This type of parents’ leave is paid by the State and is different from parental leave which is unpaid.
  • The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, TD, has committed to enacting legislation on Statutory Sick Pay before the end of 2021. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has invited public consultations on the matter. Mandatory sick pay currently applies to the construction and mechanical sectors, as it is provided for in the respective SEOs.
  • The Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019 is expected to be enacted in 2021. The mandatory reporting obligations will initially apply to organisations with over 250 employees. However, the draft Bill intends to narrow this scope to employers with 150 employees within three years, and thereafter, all employers with more than 50 employees. Members will be kept abreast of the impact of new legislation on their business in 2021.

Third-Party Hearings

We have seen a marked increase in the number of cases referred to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and Labour Court as a result of Covid-19 and the ever-increasing employment protective legislation. This trend is likely to continue.

We anticipate that the Industrial Relations sub-Committee, which comprises representatives from all branches and associations, will be very active in 2021.