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  • We have previously covered the history of the Employment Regulation Orders (EROs) created by the Joint Labour Committee (JLC) and Registered Employment Agreements operating in the Republic of Ireland on the Morgan McManus website at http://bit.ly/fc9Pld

    We also pointed to the significance of the Decision of the High Court in John Grace Fried Chicken where Mr Justice Feeney ruled that the provisions of the 1946 and 1990 Industrial Relations Acts permitting JLCs to prepare EROs, which were incorporated into law by the Labour Court, were unconstitutional.

    We stated that there were significant plans for reform in the area of both JLCs and REAs and that on 28 July 2011, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, announced that legislation reforming JLCs and REAs, was to be introduced in Autumn 2011. The Bill introducing that legislation has now been published. More information is available on the website of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at http://bit.ly/u89OUX

    Some of the proposed reforms of REAs are :
    • Companies will be able to derogate from REAs in cases of financial difficulty. For this to occur, the Labour Court must satisfy itself that specified criteria have been met. Such derogation will be granted, for a limited period, in cases of proven economic difficulty, following consultation with the employees;
    • Providing for use of civil remedies rather than an exclusive reliance on criminal sanctions;
    • Establishing a time-bound process by which the terms of an Agreement may be varied by the Labour Court in certain circumstances without necessarily obtaining the consent of all parties to the Agreement. More flexible mechanisms have been introduced to enable REAs to be reviewed, challenged and cancelled, as appropriate;
    • Defining more clearly what “substantially representative parties” means in the context of being entitled to make and to maintain such Agreements; and
    • Clarifying circumstances when a Registered Employment Agreement may be cancelled where either the trade union(s) or employer parties have ceased to be substantially representative of workers or employers in the sector concerned and/or for other reasons related to substantial change in the sector concerned such that the continued registration of an Agreement would be undesirable.
    While a lot of this remains to be clarified by Decisions of the Labour Court this development can only be good news for companies, covered by the REAs, who are struggling to survive and to companies from Northern Ireland who come into the Republic of Ireland market and often learn of these Agreements for the first time when they receive a visit from either a Trade Union or the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA).

    The Departmental announcement records that, publishing the legislation, Minister Bruton said:
    “From the beginning of this process I have been determined to strike a balance between protecting vulnerable workers and providing reforms that would make the systems more competitive and more flexible so as to allow for the creation of jobs in these sectors.
    “Over the course of the drafting process, we managed to include changes to ensure that the new flexibilities would not be open to abuse. At this difficult time it is important to strike a balance between creating new opportunities for employment and providing protection for vulnerable workers”.

    The writer would argue that in the current state of this economy the priority should be make the systems more competitive and more flexible so as to allow for the creation of jobs but one must await decisions of the Labour Court to see where priorities lie.