The Supreme Court ruling in relation to Registered Employment Agreements (“REA”) and most particularly the 1990 REA has had serious repercussions for many workers in the electrical, construction and other sectors whose pay is governed by such agreements.
The five judge court upheld the challenge by some seven electrical contractors when they ruled that Part III of the Industrial Relations Act of 1946 which in fact made provision for such agreements raised serious issues and questions of incompatibility with the Constitution as it delegated law making powers beyond the Oireachtas and the Court declared such agreements unconstitutional on Thursday 9th May 2013.
The Supreme Court decision also stated that there was no obligation on the Labour Court or the parties to the REA to consider the interests of those who would be bound by them and who are not parties to them. The court also made it clear that once the REA was in fact registered it would be binding on everyone in the sector and could only be varied on the application of the original parties.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Unite construction official Tom Fitzgerald commented that while such a ruling came as a shock to hundreds of thousands of construction workers who fear their conditions of work may be under threat, the fact remains that current terms and conditions of work continue to apply until they are re-negotiated.
The office of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton stated that the Government would study the decision of the Supreme Court and take legal advice on it before commenting in detail. However the statement also added that:
“The judgment has the effect of striking down the REA put in place under the 1946 Industrial Relations Act. Agreements which set pay and conditions for workers in five sectors including electrical contracting and construction are affected by today’s judgment”. Mr Bruton stated that existing contractual rights of workers in sectors covered by the REA are unaffected by the Supreme Court ruling.
Eamon Devoy general secretary of the Technical, Electrical and Engineering Union stated that the ruling of the Supreme Court erodes the existing protection of workers in the various sectors and that the electrical contractors have brought about a situation whereby foreign contractors will enter Ireland with the intention of undercutting domestic operators. However Mr. Devoy did state that the Supreme Court decision does not overturn existing pay rates and conditions.
It remains to be seen what the full outcome of the decision will be.