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Collective confusion December 3, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Collective Bargaining, Employment Rights, Human Rights.
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In the Irish Times on Friday morning, Stephen Collins told us

Plans to introduce compulsory collective bargaining for all companies in the State will be announced tonight by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore at the opening of the Labour Party national conference in Killarney.

The ICTU’s legal and legislative officer, Esther Lynch, tweeted on Friday that the “devil will be in the detail” but still felt able to declare “Really welcome announcement on progress towards securing proper respect for human right to collective bargaining”.

In the evening, what Eamon Gilmore actually said must have been a disappointment to her:

Labour agreed in the Programme for Government to reform the current law on employees’ rights to engage in collective bargaining, so as to ensure State compliance with the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. And I am glad to say that Government will begin the process of legislating for that commitment in the coming weeks.

She would realise that enusring compliance with the European Court of Human Rights will not be a major change. The minister responsible for this change will be Richard Bruton, and he has twice told the Dáil what the gap in the Irish law is.

First, a little over a month of taking office, he told Labour’s Robert Dowds that the issue was the Wilson case.

The ECHR judgment found that under United Kingdom law at the relevant time it was possible for an employer effectively to undermine or frustrate a trade union’s ability to strive for the protection of its members’ interests. Accordingly, the ECHR concluded that, by permitting employers to use financial incentives to induce employees to surrender important trade union rights, the UK had failed in its positive obligation to secure the enjoyment of the rights under the European Convention for the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

He confirmed that in June that year to Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea:

The compliance with the European Court of Human Rights judgment arose out of a judgment in the United Kingdom where, to paraphrase, a court judged that employers were giving priority to people who were not members of a trade union and in certain circumstances were deemed to have been victimising those who opted to join a trade union. The court found that the British law in that case was in contravention of human rights. The issue has arisen to proof our legislation against any similar frailty. This is my understanding of the matter.

Important as that is, it is a long way from what Stephen Collins reported on Friday morning.

I would love to know the story behind the differences between the front-page story in Friday’s Irish Times and the actual speech delivered on Friday night.

Was Collins given a dud briefing on Thursday, or did he misunderstand a reference in his pre-conference briefing to the Strasbourg court’s ruling, or did his report provoke contact between Richard Bruton — the minister responsible for the planned legislation — and Gilmore, leading to a change in the line by the time the speech was delivered on Friday evening? I don’t know which of those three possibilities — Collins spouting garbage, Collins being fed garbage, or Gilmore climbing down — is worst.

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Comments»

1. CL - December 3, 2013

As we remember the labour struggles of 1913 its certainly peculiar that workers in Ireland don’t have a legal right to collective bargaining.

2. Tomboktu - December 3, 2013

Depends on what you mean by a right. There is a ‘negative right’ — that is, the state does not prohibit collective bargaining. Some workers (in Independent newspapers, for example) do benefit from that right, but other (in Ryanair) don’t.

CL - December 4, 2013

“The general secretary of the Republic’s biggest union has urged the Government to introduce a law recognising collective bargaining rights during the commemoration of the 1913 Lockout…..
James Larkin’s granddaughter, Stella McConnon, said the leader of the Lockout would be shocked if he were alive to see Irish workers denied this right.”
http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/call-for-collective-bargaining-rights-at-lockout-exhibition-opening-1.1556944

CMK - December 4, 2013

I wonder what Larkin would have made of the FEMPI legislation? And particularly the role his successor as leader of SIPTU played in getting FEMPI onto the statute books? The proposed collective bargaining legislation that SIPTU and Labour are having a collective orgasm about is a fitting tribute to William Martin Murphy in the centenary of the Lockout. Employers only have to recognise employee representative organisations, which might or might not be trade unions. Which was the whole point of Martin Murphy’s position: ‘I have no problem with unions just not THAT particular one or THAT one.’

CL - December 4, 2013

This is an old capitalist tactic-create a ‘house’ or company union; that the Labour party is making legal provision for such an anti-worker ploy shows the extent of their degeneration.

EamonnCork - December 4, 2013

Ah yes. The ‘Works Committee’ approach. You don’t want any of those oul trade unions son, we’ll sort it out between ourselves. And woe betide anyone who then tries to set up a trade union. If the Labour Party are institutionalising that kind of nonsense, what do they stand for at all? You read Joan Burton’s speech at the Party Conference and realise that the party is perpetually willing to give lip service to principles which in practice they work tirelessly to undermine.

3. Blissett - December 3, 2013

The courts have argued that the constitutional right to freedom association, also implies the right to disassociation, and therefore the right not to deal with a union if they dont want to.
So to have a solid right of collective bargaining, ie mandatory recognition of unions, you would likely need a constitutional amendment

CMK - December 4, 2013

Was that case not that the ‘right’ to disassociation meant that an individual worker could not be forced to be part of a union if he/she didn’t want to be? I.e no closed shops? I don’t think that would be a barrier to compulsory recognition of unions. But I could be wrong.

CL - December 4, 2013

Outlawing closed shops is a serious impediment to unionisation; this puts Ireland in the same position as the so-called ‘right-to-work’ states in the U.S.

Tomboktu - December 5, 2013

Bt coincidence, Broadsheet summarised the Irish law on freedom to join or not join a union and closed shops yesterday.

http://www.broadsheet.ie/2013/12/04/people-cant-be-forced-to-join-unions-against-their-will/

4. Paul Marks (@paulvmarks) - December 4, 2013

A “right to general collective bargaining” (and all the rest of the “Positive Rights” stuff) is really a right to mass unemployment. The “European Social Model” is failing – and some court calling this stuff “rights” does not alter the fact that is failing.

5. Paul Marks (@paulvmarks) - December 4, 2013

By the way I do not believe that Closed Shops are outlawed in the Republic of Ireland – if an employer and union both want a Closed Shop (i.e. everyone forced into a union) they can (I believe) have one. Certainly many parts of government and other employment in Ireland are union dominated. Also obstruction (the military practice of “picketing”) is legal in Ireland – due to United Kingdom statutes when what is now the Republic of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. As for “Right to Work” States in the United States – somewhere such as east Tennessee (note to the ill informed – this was the anti slavery pro United States part of Tennessee) would seem to be a good place for an Irishman to seek work. The country is good, the weather is good – the only thing it lacks is the sea.

6. As for the unions… | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - December 4, 2013

[…] It would be interesting to know how those who contest the notion stand in relation to that. Or is it that some rights are fundamental, and others… well… they just aren’t. Or as noted in Tomboktu’s other post on the matter from yesterday, that somehow we’re go… […]


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