Simplicity and complexity in practice

Ireland – combining sectoral and national rates

Ireland introduced minimum wages at the beginning of the 20th century through the establishment of Joint Labour Committees (JLCs). These are “statutory bodies that set minimum pay and conditions of employment in low-paid employments where collective bargaining is poorly developed”. The JLCs issue establishment orders which state the minimum pay and conditions of employment.

Apart from the agricultural sector, all JLCs regulate a sub-sector or particular occupation (contract cleaning, law clerks, hair-dressing...) and cover between 9% and 25% of total employment. They comprise between six and 15 representative employer and worker organizations (in equal proportion) and fewer independent members. The number of JLCs has varied over time, settling at 10 by 2013.

In 2000, a national minimum wage was introduced, which extended minimum wage protection to all employees (as opposed to only those included under collective bargaining and JLCs), but also threw into doubt the relevance of the JLC system. To evaluate its relevance, the Labour Relations Commission was tasked with commissioning a review in 2005, and recommended that the JLCs be retained, albeit subject to a review and possible rationalisation. Partly because the JLCs regulated more than minimum wages, workers might lose other entitlements & protections (overtime, shift allowances, pensions, sick pay) if the JLCs were eliminated.

The simplification of the existing JLCs underwent a consultative process, including submissions from social partners: the final results were published in a report submitted to the Labour Court. The review process resulted in the abolition of two JLCs and amendments to the establishment orders issued by the eight remaining JLCs. The final result is a system that provides a basic safety net for all workers and JLCs that regulate specific terms and conditions of work for individual sub-sectors.

Ireland: O’Sullivan, M. and Wallace, J. (2011) ‘Minimum labour standards in a social partnership system: the persistence of the Irish variant of Wages Councils’ in Industrial Relations Journal, Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 18-35.
Ibid. The authors state: “The wide disparity in these figures is reflective of the unsatisfactory situation that precise data are not available on the current number of workers covered by the JLC system, and no one has responsibility for providing coverage data.”
--- Industrial Relations Act 2012. Review of Joint Labour Committees. Commissioned by the Labour Court. Section 11 Industrial Relations Act 2011. Conducted by Janet Hughes. April 2013.