Ireland: life after social partnership

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Title: Ireland: life after social partnership
Authors: Maccarrone, VincenzoErne, RolandRegan, Aidan
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Date: 25-May-2019
Online since: 2019-01-30T15:12:42Z
Abstract: What conclusions can be drawn from the trajectory of collective bargaining in Ireland over the past 20 years or so? The most important institutional change brought by the recession is undoubtedly the end of social partnership, which had dominated the Irish industrial relations scene since 1987. The picture is now one in which national bipartite agreements take place, but only in the public sector and with significantly less scope than in the past. In addition, the government has shown a willingness to impose unilateral legislation when bipartite agreements have been rejected by a majority of union members. In the unionized private sector, bargaining has been decentralized to the firm level, but until 2017 collective agreements could perhaps be described as a variant of ‘pattern bargaining’, due to the coordinated pay strategy of some of the larger Irish unions. Despite relatively strong economic growth, a return to centralized tripartite bargaining in the form of the social partnership seems unlikely, as the ruling centre-right Fine Gael government has consistently ruled it out, and IBEC have reduced the industrial relations function of their organization. Given the ‘Faustian’ character of social partnership agreements and the potential for increased members’ involvement outside centralized bargaining, even for the unions a return to social partnership may not be the most favourable option. Despite the voluntarist tradition of Irish industrial relations, the role played by state regulation throughout the past fifteen years has been significant. First, several pieces of legislation aimed at increasing individual workers’ rights have been introduced, mostly in response to EU directives. Second, a statutory minimum wage has been enacted and some sectoral wage-setting mechanisms have been reintroduced. Third, the Industrial Relations Act 2015 attempted to address the problem of union recognition, after the Supreme Court’s judgment in 2007 made the previous legislation dealing with the issue ineffective. Finally, the Workplace Relations Act 2015 attempted to simplify the dispute resolution system. These developments suggest a continuation of the shift towards a rights-based system, in which the roles of collective bargaining and collective labour law are reduced in favour of legally binding and individual dispute resolution mechanisms. The most worrying aspect for Irish trade unions is the sharp decline in union density, which had started during the 1990s and continued into the 2000s. Union density remains significantly higher in the public than in the private sector, and is declining in key sectors dominated by MNCs, which are adopting union avoidance practices, although some important manufacturers, such as Apple, are unionized. Other explanations for the fall in unionization include changing attitudes and public opinion toward unions; the lack of an enforceable legal framework for union recognition; the increase in individual employment rights ‘displacing’ the role of unions; and the passive attitude of some trade unions towards recruitment during the years of social partnership. To this should be added structural factors, such as the relatively higher growth of employment in sectors and occupations that are generally associated with lower unionization rates. Since the crisis, and subsequent adjustment, unions have aimed at institutional renewal, setting up organizing departments and increasing workplace action, both in the service and manufacturing sectors. Examples of this include a successful campaign in the cleaning sector to re-establish the sectoral wage agreement, as well as the coordinated bargaining strategy that started in the manufacturing sector, and was then extended to service sectors, such as retail and banking. An important recent development involved Ryanair, where pilots organized through the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association forced the company to pledge to recognize the union thanks to a transnationally coordinated campaign. As this chapter has argued throughout, especially after the end of social partnership, union density matters in the Irish context, as state support for collective bargaining institutions is low. Whether these initiatives will be able to reverse the trend of union density and collective bargaining coverage as it has developed over the past 20 years is the key challenge for Irish trade unions.
Funding Details: European Commission Horizon 2020
Irish Research Council
Type of material: Book Chapter
Publisher: ETUI
Keywords: Collective bargainingTrade unionsIreland
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Language: en
Status of Item: Not peer reviewed
Is part of: Müller T., Vandaele K., Waddington J. (eds.). Collective bargaining in Europe: towards an endgame
Appears in Collections:Business Research Collection

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