The High Court has given the NECI leave to challenge the Labour Court’s plan to introduce a new binding pay agreement for the electrical contracting sector.
On Monday 31 July 2017 the NECI was granted leave by Mr Justice Noonan to challenge the Labour Court’s decision to start the process of introducing a sectoral employment order (SEO) for the industry under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015.
The SEO was applied for by the TEEU in March 2017 but was only made public at the end of May. It is supported by the ECA and the AECI. The NECI is the only employer body opposing the introduction of the SEO and is doing so on the basis that its members cannot be expected to pay the same rates as the larger electrical contractors. The previous registered employment agreement for the industry was abolished when in May 2013 the Supreme Court struck down Part III of the Industrial Relations Act of 1946 as being unconstitutional.
The CIF made a submission to the Labour Court on behalf of the ECA in support of the TEEU’s application for an SEO which states quite openly that it wants to remove labour costs as an area of competition between employers in the industry. The NECI cannot see how this helps the consumer and believes that it is anti-competitive. According to the CIF no public contract will be awarded unless an electrical contractor complies with the old REA rates although it is no longer legally binding as a result of the Supreme Court ruling in McGowan.
Now the TEEU, the ECA and the AECI are again trying to introduce legally binding pay and conditions for electricians which would see employers criminalised if they are found to be in breach of an order to comply with those terms and conditions.
The NECI’s High Court proceedings have challenged the Labour Court’s decision to hold a private hearing into the TEEU’s application. The NECI called on the Labour Court to hold the hearing in public because it believes that there must be an open and transparent public discussion to canvas all views. The NECI is concerned that an SEO will be introduced behind closed doors without sufficient scrutiny. The NECI believes that there is no precedent for holding the hearing in private.
The NECI has applied to the High Court to examine the procedures adopted by the Labour Court to date. Section 15(1) of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 makes it clear what has to be done to ensure that any recommendation that the Labour Court might make to the Minister for Enterprise and Innovation is made in accordance with law. It can only do so when it is satisfied that the parties are representative of the industry and when it is satisfied what that industry actually is, but in this case the NECI is fearful that those important protections have not been observed.
The NECI has also asked the High Court to block the private Labour Court hearing scheduled for September until the High Court has examined the issue. The High Court has said that it will hear the NECI’s application for a stay on the Labour Court hearing on 28 August 2017. It will hear from the Labour Court and other parties on that date also.
Recently a similar examination took place for the Construction Industry and the Labour Court convened a private hearing on 26 June 2017 and had made a recommendation to the Minister within almost 2 weeks proposing an SEO for the construction sector. In that case a pay rise of 10% has been recommended. The NECI had asked to attend that hearing but was not permitted to do so by the Labour Court.