Time for overhaul of unfair dismissals legislation in Ireland

19 May 2024

Labour marks 10th Anniversary of the opening of Rosie Hackett Bridge

  • In order to break down barriers to trade union access in Ireland, overhaul of Unfair Dismissals Act and other legislation is necessary.
  • Clear need to penalise egregious employer behaviour – current unfair dismissals legislation does not provide for that and only provides for a worker’s “losses”.
  • Labour’s bill provides for the introduction of exemplary damages to workers up to 2 years pay. The current award for non financial losses is capped at 4 weeks. The Bill puts specific worker protections in place for non disclosure agreements, it halves the required employment service from twelve months to six months and crucially, it turns the tables on the requirement for the unfairly sacked worker to mitigate their “losses” and shifts responsibility to the employer.

This Monday marks a decade since the Rosie Hackett Bridge opened in Dublin. Despite being the only bridge in the city named after a woman, its significance resonates beyond its physical presence. Named in honour of Rosie Hackett, a pioneering trade unionist who was sacked from her job at Jacobs Factory following the 1913 Lockout and in the shadow of SIPTU’s Liberty Hall, the bridge stands as a symbol of the enduring fight for workers’ rights.

Labour’s Workers Rights Spokesperson, Senator Marie Sherlock said “On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Rosie Hackett Bridge, Labour is publishing legislative proposals to overhaul the Unfair Dismissals Act. The Unfair Dismissals act is one of the few pieces of labour law legislation in this country that did not originate from a EU Directive. It has endured many attempts to weaken it over the past number of decades and Labour now believes it is crucial that we strengthen this legislation.

“In order to break down all barriers to accessing trade unions in this country and to stamp out egregious employer behaviour that has a chilling impact on workers, Labour believes that an overhaul of the Unfair dismissals act and other legislation is necessary. We need to increase the penalties for bad behaviour and send a message that worker victimisation and union busting activity should not be tolerated. In Ireland, we have a bizarre situation where certain breaches of employment law incur very minor penalties even if there is egregious behaviour whereas other breaches of employment rights incur the heavy wrath of the courts. We firmly believe that the unfair sacking of a worker deserves more than a mere slap on the wrist.”

The Unfair Dismissals Act currently caps payouts for non financial losses to 4 weeks pay and at that the onus is on workers to demonstrate that they have mitigated their losses. Added to that, workers must have 12 months service before a case can be taken.

Senator Sherlock continued “The EU Directive on Adequate Minimum Wages is due to be transposed by the Irish Government by November this year. This directive is designed to broaden access for workers to collectively bargained wage setting structures and crucially it recognises that access to trade unions is critical to this. In order to ensure that the intent of the of directive is achieved here in Ireland, Labour believes we need to ensure that all workers’ rights legislation is fit for purpose in stamping out egregious, exploitative behaviour.

“Our call comes at a time where the Government is seeking to pause advances in workers’ rights. The pause in the extension of sick pay provisions to the sickest of workers is heartless and represents naked electioneering in its capitulation to business representative groups.

“Instead, Government should be looking to reward good employers via public procurement while strengthening workers rights and it must harshly penalise those who shamefully exploit and mistreat their workers.”

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