Government awaiting High Court appeal before making new laws on wage agreements

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.  Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The government will wait for the result of an appeal of a High Court judgment on the laws underpinning wage agreements before it plans new legislation, the Tánaiste says.

The High Court recently ruled that both the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015, and a 2019 Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) for the electrical contracting sector were unconstitutional. The ruling has created uncertainty for thousands of workers whose pay rates were guaranteed by the orders.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar has said that the government will appeal the decision.

However, Mr Varadkar said the government cannot and will not publish primary legislation on the issue until the appeal is heard. He told the Dáil that a Labour bill published by Louth TD Ged Nash was premature and called it "virtue signalling".

"We need the courts to clarify this issue. There is now a serious point of law to be considered as to whether sectoral employment orders such as these are permissible. Such orders have been struck down before. Legislation to reintroduce them was passed in 2015. 

"They have now been struck down again. Our actions have been found to be unconstitutional. We do not agree with this judgment, which is why we are appealing it to the Supreme Court.

It would not be possible, however, to bring in new legislation to set sectoral minima when the courts have found that we do not have the power to do so.

"There is a big difference between intent and sincerity on the one hand and virtue signalling and critical messaging on the other. One is good and the other is phony."

Mr Varadkar said workers affected by the issue are covered by the minimum wage, as well as terms and conditions, but the removal of the SEO is "a real problem".

Mr Nash said the Tánaiste's comments are "poor form".

"He clearly hasn’t read (the legislation), and has chosen not to understand its intention," he said.

Mr Nash last week said his legislation would fix the flaw in the legislation pinpointed in the court judgment.

"The terms of these three orders that were struck down by the High Court can, under the proposed legislation, be converted into primary law with the blessing of both Houses of the Oireachtas to address some of these significant defects identified by the High Court."

The Tánaiste also said that those who were engaged on government contracts would receive the agreed amounts.

For Government contracts we are saying the SEO terms and conditions should still apply. That is a matter of contract law, but I cannot guarantee that everyone in the private sector will take the same view.