29 May 2008 Edition

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Sinn Féin Introduces Trade Union Recognition Bill

Arthur Morgan

Arthur Morgan

A BILL, seeking to enshrine the right to trade union recognition and collective bargaining in the 1937 Constitution, was introduced in the Dáil by Sinn Féin on Tuesday.
Introducing the Twenty Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill Sinn Féin’s Workers’ Rights Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD called on trade unionists as well as all parties in the Dáil to support the legislation. Morgan said that suggesting the Charter of Rights appended to the Lisbon Treaty would deliver these rights was deeply misleading.
“At present trade union rights are covered only in an extremely limited way under article 40.6.1 of the 1937 constitution, which guarantees the right to form associations and unions. Essentially what exists is only freedom of association and disassociation, and a voluntarist approach to trade union recognition. The current position is totally inadequate and that is why Sinn Féin is tabling the Twenty Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill to enshrine the right to trade union recognition and collective bargaining in the Constitution”, Morgan said.
“The fundamental inadequacy in the present position is that when a worker chooses to exercise her or his constitutional right to join a trade union, the employer is not under any obligation to recognise and negotiate with that union. A trade union – even one which holds a negotiating licence – cannot claim a constitutional right to recognition for negotiating purposes. Nor will its members have a right to industrial action if the trade union is not recognised. The reality is that employers will give such recognition only if they believe it to be in their interests or if they are legally required to do so.
“The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001 and the Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 do not provide for trade union recognition at all, but only set out options for trade unions that have been refused recognition by employers. Where employers are determined to stay non-union, therefore, the law as it stands does not greatly assist workers.
“This was proven in 2005 when IMPACT and the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association applied to bring Ryanair before the Labour Court under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001, and the Court found that the Act did not require Ryanair to negotiate with trade unions and could not be used to enforce trade union recognition against an employer”, he said.
The Louth TD said that in desperation to address this major deficiency regarding the right to trade union recognition and collective bargaining offered by the Constitution some trade unionists are looking to the Charter of Rights appended to the Lisbon Treaty as the solution.
“It is deeply misleading to suggest that the Charter of Rights will give workers these rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights does not guarantee the right to strike. Article 28 of the Charter appended to the Lisbon Treaty states that workers have the right to collective bargaining and to take strike action only “in accordance with national laws and practices”. This means that this provision is meaningless if these rights are not protected in the Irish Constitution.
“Sinn Féin is urging trade unionists to join with us in campaigning for constitutional change to guarantee the right to collective bargaining and Trade Union recognition and not to accept false claims regarding the ability of the Lisbon Treaty to deliver on these matters. We are also calling on all parties in the Dáil to support this Bill”, he said.

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