Ireland operates a voluntarist approach to trade union recognition and collective bargaining. This means that those employers and employees who wish to engage in collective bargaining, through a trade union if desired, may do so but those who choose not to, do not have to.
It is vital that this voluntarist approach to industrial relations is retained. The freedom to choose whether or not to negotiate with trade unions is a key attraction for foreign companies seeking to invest in Ireland and is also a feature of the Irish labour market highly valued by indigenous business. This is not because of any ideological anti-union view. Rather, for many employers, union recognition means handing over the ability to make management decisions to a third party, whose interests will not always be aligned to that of continuing a successful business in this jurisdiction. For some employers - particularly those with their foundations in foreign direct investment – union recognition presents a real existential threat in terms of their continued operation in Ireland.
Besides, anyone who followed the industrial dispute that arose within the UK transport provider Southern Rail from 2016 until earlier this year will know that the UK legal and industrial relations system, which provides for mandatory trade union recognition, did not prevent that dispute lingering for almost two years without resolution. The announcement by Ryanair a number of months ago that they would engage with FORSA has not prevented their dispute resulting in industrial action. There is no evidence that mandatory union recognition or collective bargaining in Ireland would create greater industrial peace than we already enjoy. In fact, it would likely have a negative effect.
The reality is that trade union membership in Ireland is a status highly protected by Irish law. Further statutory protections exist mandating information and consultation in the context of collective redundancies and transfers of undertakings. Ireland’s voluntarist approach to industrial relations has delivered industrial peace in good times and bad. Those who argue for a change in our processes should be aware that they would dismantle it at the risk of the livelihoods of the very employees they would purport to protect.
Wednesday, 25 July 2018