Setback for Bruton wage reform plan - Examiner Article
Wednesday 27 July 2011, 11am
By Shaun Connolly and Juno McEnroe
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THE bitter Coalition wrangle over Fine Gael’s bid to overhaul wage safeguards for the low paid appeared to end in a setback for Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton last night.
A Cabinet agreement to lessen the impact of the proposed reforms by beefing up premium pay rates and giving a stronger role to watchdogs was seen as concession to Labour after the party endorsed €100-a-year household charges.
Mr Bruton last night said new, legally robust measures would be announced before the weekend to protect the low-paid workers.
Speaking in Donegal, he said he had spoken to trade unions about the move and the attorney general and his department would work on the new regulations which would be ready in the autumn.
"This will be a system that will protect workers, that will be robust. We’ll introduce the reforms so that we can exploit the opportunities for employment that are in these sectors and that are very important to many younger and lower-skilled people.
"The sectors involved are those covered by JLCs which include catering, hotels, retail, grocery and a number of other sectors."
Mr Bruton would not comment on whether the Sunday premium pay or special hourly rates for low-paid workers would be abolished. "I’ve always struck a balance between the needs of those who are locked out of the workforce altogether, the need to protect people in jobs who are vulnerable and also now with the High Court [decision] to have a legally robust system."
Under the deal to be announced today, the more radical of Mr Bruton’s ambitions are to be ditched in favour of smaller reforms. These will see a greater role for the Labour Court and the National Employment Rights Authority in enforcing wage floors for some 200,000 workers, mainly in the catering industry.
Various pay rates laid out under the Joint Labour Agreements (JLCs) will be streamlined to cover an entry grade and a senior rate.
Other details of the plan, which will become law in the autumn, will be worked out over the summer after emergency legislation was ruled out following a High Court decision that JLCs were unconstitutional.
A row between the two Coalition partners had been simmering before the court ruling as Labour TDs put pressure on Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore to stand firm over the low-paid safeguards.
Mr Bruton argued that the system, parts of which date back to the 1940s, was antiquated and helped prevent job growth in service industries like catering as employers found having to pay extra rates for working Sundays in certain conditions unviable.
The compromise is seen as a way of easing tension between the parties ahead of a difficult autumn that is set to see spending cuts leading up to a savage budget.
Galway East Labour TD Colm Keaveney, who has led backbench anger over Mr Bruton’s move on JLCs, said the agreement protected the low paid.
"The Labour Party leadership has delivered on its promises to low-paid workers and I am delighted with the commitment to this sector and a strengthened role for the labour court."