Following the the recent court decision in relation to JLCs and EROs, Fianna Fáil brought forward a piece of legislation called the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2011 which was discussed in the Dáil chamber last night.
It is not unreasonable for Deputy O’Dea to introduce this Bill in order that we can have a debate on the issue. Apart from one or two new proposals in the Bill, it is largely the same as the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2009, which I supported and spoke in favour of in the Seanad. The Deputy is correct in saying that the 2009 Bill was an attempt to anticipate the likely frailty and ultimate fate of a challenge that was then being brought to the orders and to the JLC system.
While I understand where Deputy O’Dea is coming from as regards the notion of the Government appealing the decision of Mr. Justice Feeney to the Supreme Court as a “tactic”, he will appreciate that such an approach is fraught with danger, particularly for a Government in circumstances in which – according to the Deputy and if I heard him correctly – the prospect of success is “minuscule”. And it would be wrong for the House to have the impression that bringing forth such an appeal would mean the Government would automatically obtain a stay on the existing Employment Regulation Orders. Indeed, obtaining a stay in the context of the High Court decision would be extremely difficult.
It is not unreasonable for the Deputy to introduce the Bill, but the Government is right and the Minister and Taoiseach are correct in the approach they have taken in saying that the Bill is not sufficiently robust. If the legislation is to achieve what people want, a number of matters must be addressed and necessary and vital improvements must be made to make the legislation fit for purpose.
We cannot forget that there were two essential pillars in the Feeney judgment. One was the absence of principles and policies to guide the Labour Court and the JLCs and the other was the issue of whether property rights under the Constitution were offended by the JLC system. As a minimum, a prudent Government and the House would want to proof legislation in the context of the latter issue, given the fact that previous proposals on protective and trade union legislation came up a cropper on this issue. This issue of property rights and their effects presents a considerable problem to those of us who want real reform and full collective bargaining rights for trade unions. It also presents a problem in this instance, in that it would be most imprudent to rush legislation when the High Court has identified that the property rights issue must be addressed. Perhaps it cannot be dealt with in legislation alone. Given the nature of these rights, dealing with them solely in legislation is difficult, but they must be addressed.
The other issue is that referred to by the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, and my colleague Deputy Mitchell, namely, the question of principles and policies raised in the judgment. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has signalled an intention to introduce reforms, the Government has committed to reforming the JLC system and there has been consultation and debate on how that should be achieved and what the changes would be precisely. I expect that agreement can be reached on this agenda, and the principles and policies resulting from the agreement should be incorporated in any new legislation. Those contained in Deputy O’Dea’s Bill come from the 2009 Bill, referring to the “interests” of the workers, employers and so on, are somewhat bland and cover a bit of ground but not all the ground. We should use the legislation to provide for those new principles and policies as well.