Collective bargaining coverage in Ireland is around 44% while overall trade union density is 34% but higher in the public sector – 79% in public administration and 55% in health, for example.
Collective bargaining system
The constitution provides a right to form and join a trade union but does not refer to collective bargaining. This continues today in a more or less voluntary environment similar to the UK.
There is no statutory right to collective bargaining or even to trade union recognition.
Collective bargaining was mainly carried out on a sectoral basis in the 1950s and 1960s but was decentralised in the following decades with construction now the only industry with any significant sectoral agreement.
However, since 1987 there has effectively been a process of national collective bargaining through a series of major and detailed national agreements. These agreements cover a very broad range of economic and social issues as well as establishing guidelines for pay increases. The agreements also include provisions for the benchmarking of pay between the public and private sector.
The national agreement is not binding and while it is implemented throughout most of the public sector, there are doubts about the extent to which it is implemented in the non-unionised parts of the private sector.
Social dialogue takes place at national level not just in terms of the three-year national agreements but also through a number of national tripartite bodies – the National Economic and Social Council, the National Economic and Social Forum and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance.
Social dialogue at local level is very limited with legislation on works councils only being implemented now as a result of the European directive on information and consultation.
Legal regulation of pay and working conditions
There was virtually no legal regulation of pay and conditions until the 1960s and there is now a significant range of individual employment rights thanks to legislation on working hours, equal treatment, redundancy and a national minimum wage, which collective agreements normally improve upon.
There is only one central trade union confederation in Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), to which all the main public sector unions are affiliated.
The three main branches of the public sector national administration (civil service), local government and health are all covered by the national agreement and so the same pay rises are implemented in each of the three sectors. There are, however, different pay structures in each case.
Pay benchmarking was negotiated at national level and is a process of comparing the pay of different public sector grades with those applied in the private sector. This is based on similar jobs requiring similar levels of skills and qualifications and with similar responsibilities.