Recent reforms over the last five years have bolstered support for such agreements which now include sectoral employment orders as well as joint labour committees and registered employment agreements. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 has clarified the circumstances in which a trade union may refer a trade dispute in a place of employment in which collective bargaining does not take place to the Labour Court for a legally binding outcome.
In other words, Irish employers can still choose whether or not to negotiate with a trade union or engage in collective bargaining but there may be real consequences for refusing to do so, namely a legally enforceable determination from the Labour Court on a trade dispute arising in the organisation.
SIPTU have now called for a referendum on the issue of collective bargaining, no doubt with a view to paving the way for legislation requiring some form of mandatory trade union recognition. Such a move will upset this careful balance of industrial relations which has served us so well to date. The International Labour Organisation Conventions which address collective bargaining rightly focus on the fact that such engagements should be voluntary.
Once the framework to facilitate and promote collective bargaining has been achieved, as it has in Ireland, there is little value in forcing employers to negotiate with specific parties. Doing so will only serve to alienate some of Ireland's best employers and discourage future foreign direct investment at a time when, against the backdrop of Brexit, Ireland needs to continue to do all it can to make itself an attractive destination for business.
Head of Employment Law Services, Ibec
Friday, 13 October 2017