Social dialogue and the new world of work in Ireland [chapter]

Philip J. O'Connell
2021 The New World of Work  
Irish industrial relations are a post-colonial inheritance from the British voluntarist system, in which employers and workers' representatives enter into free collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment (D'Art et al. 2013) . A core assumption of voluntarist conflict-resolution systems is that employers and trade unions regulate their affairs in the absence of state regulation, and the role of the state is that of an honest broker in dispute regulation, as well as in the
more » ... entation of legislation to protect workers and to regulate health and safety. Crucially, in Ireland the state does not legislate for either trade union recognition by employers or collective bargaining rights, a longheld aspiration of Irish unions. In this respect Ireland differs from Britain and the United States, where unions do enjoy such rights. Voluntarism has two other important consequences for collective bargaining. First, union density is important: workers in enterprises and sectors in which unions are strong are able to press their claims, often in adversarial conflict. Where unions are weak, workers are unable to press their interests. Union density has been falling in Ireland over the past three decades, and it is unevenly distributed across economic sectors. Second, collective bargaining coverage is limited: collective agreements are negotiated between pairs of actors -employers and unions -and typically do not extend beyond the signatories of those agreements. Wage costs are an essential component of competitiveness in a small, open economy. Developments in collective bargaining during the 1970s saw a series of bipartite national wage agreements negotiated between unions and employers. Over the course of that decade the state became increasingly involved directly in supporting national collective wage bargaining through the use of budgetary incentives, including higher spending and greater equality of taxation (Hardiman 1988). These early attempts at tripartite social dialogue collapsed in the face of dissatisfaction among employers with the number of days lost to strikes owing to industrial conflict and the extent of wage drift from national agreements through local bargaining. Growing pressure on state finances undermined its capacity to underwrite further national-level collective bargaining. Collective bargaining was decentralized during the early 1980s. In 1987, the state again became involved in tripartite collective bargaining with employers and unions in response to the deep economic and fiscal crisis during the 1980s.
doi:10.4337/9781800888050.00014 fatcat:kmaamoziabevxfdddxuumjksae