Controversy continues over the robustness of the dispute procedures in the Irish EWC legislation. According to a report in IRN (€), Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister Simon Coveney told a parliamentary committee that his department has “a difference of view with the Commission” on European Works Councils (EWC) law in Ireland and that “we are talking to it about finding a resolution.”
However, the minister resolutely refuses to spell out what the dispute is about or to explain why it is taking so long to find a resolution, especially as many involved in EWCs, from both sides, have pointed to the procedures in the Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Act 2002 as the way forward. As the report in IRN notes:
“…while the social partners have raised the issue of EWC law in Ireland, there has been no detailed departmental engagement with the ICTU or IBEC on EWCs. Neither has the Department taken up an offer to meet with major multinationals to hear their views on European Works Councils.”
Trying to resolve a problem about “information and consultation” without informing and consulting those affected and asking for their input is a bizarre way to deal with an issue, to say the least. The Minister and officials in his department, with no first-hand knowledge of EWCs, are denying there is a problem, while those involved with EWCs, management and unions, are saying there is a problem.
With permission from IRN, we reprint their report below. (For those of you with interests in Ireland we strongly recommend subscribing to IRN if you do not already do so. Email the editor for details Andy Prendergast [email protected]).
Speaking at a Committee hearing last week, Minister Coveney updated the situation between Ireland and the European Commission regarding infringement proceedings initiated against Ireland by the latter last year (4021 of 2022), following a complaint by SIPTU.
The alleged inadequacy of Ireland’s EWC law has been a pressing issue for representative groups and employment law practitioners for some time, as discussed in IRN. It is also a topical area that might be favourable to social dialogue, but which has not been explored in detail through this channel.
Responding to criticism from Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan, that 12 months have elapsed since the proceedings were initiated but the “Department still appears to have absolutely nothing to say”, the Minister said: “We have plenty to say but we need to say it to the Commission. We need to get an agreement on this issue.”
Senator Gavan said the Commission “identified a number of shortcomings in Irish legislation, which fails to guarantee the right of workers’ representatives, the Special Negotiating Body ... or the European Works Council to go to a national court over disputes related to breaches of the rights and obligations under this Directive.”
Minister Coveney said that his department is in “active discussion with the European Commission on this issue to try to get agreement on what to do.”
“That process is under way and I wish to give our officials the time and space to do that. That is where we are. We have a difference of view with the Commission and we are talking to it about finding a resolution.
“Our legal advice does not agree with that of the Commission”, he noted, adding that having a disagreement with the Commission “is not unusual on certain issues.”
“We will work through the issues with the Commission and get an agreement in place that both sides can support. That is where it is at. It would not be helpful for me to make definitive statements one way or the other in the middle of that process.”
BEERG has previously addressed the joint committee on enterprise, trade and employment (see IRN 24/2022) and wrote to former DETE Minister, Leo Varadkar, to highlight its concerns.
Senator Gavan noted that seven unions, representing more than 45 million workers throughout Europe, wrote to then Minister Varadkar to highlight their concerns (see IRN 44/2022). The Senator said that DETE “seems to have a determined position not to deal with this issue but, rather, be in denial about it.”
He also noted that a number of weeks ago, Denis Sheridan of SIPTU met Jobs Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, who expressed his concern that nothing has moved forward on this issue.
The Minister said that at present no timeline on resolution of the issue can be given. He rejected the assertion from Senator Gavan that the department has an “ideological objection to granting rights to workers that workers across Europe have.”
“There is no ideological issue here in the context of my approach on this or the Department’s approach on this. We have a difference of legal interpretation with the Commission. We are working through that. That is not unusual between a member state and the Commission. We will bring this to a conclusion as soon as we can”, he said.
He did, however, note that the WRC “may be asked to look at a code of practice” on EWCs, following the Verizon decisions recently (see IRN 15/2023). “Obviously we have to be consistent with European Commission regulations and requirements”, the Minister added.