Election 2020: What are the employment law priorities?
Election 2020: What are the employment law priorities?
While the prospect of a new government being formed currently appears to be a long way off, there is no doubt that Sinn Féin, having secured the most first-preference votes in the recent general election, is a strong contender to be in the next government.
We take a look at its priorities in terms of employment law and contrast these with the other two main parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
The pension age
This, somewhat surprisingly given it has been a long running issue, became a significant talking point for all parties during the election.
As things currently stand, the age at which a person is entitled to access the state pension (state pension age) is 66, but this is due to increase to 67 in 2021 and 68 in 2028. In addition, mandatory retirement at an age set by the employer is permissible, where certain conditions are met (see our previous alert). There can therefore be a gap for some people between retiring and state pension age with that gap currently being filled by "jobseekers allowance".
In order to address this issue Sinn Féin has stated its commitment to returning the state pension age to 65 and prohibiting mandatory retirement
Fine Gael stands by the increase to the state pension age. It commits to introducing:
a new State Transition Pension for those retiring at 66
a new State Pathway Pension for those retiring at 65, by maintaining the current payment rate, but eliminating jobseekers criteria.
Fine Gael states it will work with employers to ensure that valued employees can continue to work after reaching retirement, should they wish to do so.
Fianna Fáil's proposals include:
reinstating the State Pension (Transition) as an interim measure to people aged 65 and over who retire but are not yet entitled to a state pension
deferring the pension age increase in 2021
outlawing contracts that stipulate retirement at 65
The living wage
While the minimum wage in Ireland is currently €10.10 per hour, the 'living wage' has been estimated at €12.30 per hour. One of Sinn Féin's priorities is legally obliging those employers that can afford to pay the living wage to do so.
Fianna Fáil's view is that the government should lead the way and would therefore implement the living wage across all government departments. This, it says, would set a broader standard without placing an undue legislative burden upon employers struggling to keep down costs.
Fine Gael's manifesto does not appear to contain any commitments with regard to living wage.
Universal Social Charge (USC) – Sinn Féin will abolish USC on income under €30,000. Fianna Fáil will reduce 4.5% rate to 3.5% (applies to income between c.€20k to €70k) and Fine Gael will reduce the USC by increasing the exempt threshold from €13,000 to €20,500.
Rate of income tax - Sinn Féin will introduce a levy of 5% on earnings over €140,000 and a wealth tax on individuals of 1% on net wealth over €1m.
Right to disconnect
Flexibility and the right to disconnect featured prominently in political party manifestos.
Sinn Féin expressed as a priority the introduction of legislation that will give workers a right to disconnect from work outside of normal work hours, and requiring employers, in consultation with employees and their trade union representatives, to put in place a right to disconnect policy for their workers.
Fine Gael stated that it believes everybody has a right to 'switch off', once their working day is over and states it would bring forward proposals for a right to disconnect in 2020.
If such legislation were introduced Ireland would be following other European countries such as France. France introduced a 'right to disconnect' in 2017 requiring employers with more than 50 workers to set out hours in which staff are not supposed to send or answer emails.
Gender pay gap
The Gender Pay Gap Information Bill was introduced by the last government (see our previous alert). The fact that all major parties are committed to implementing gender pay gap reporting is not new.
Sinn Féin proposes to strengthen the legislation by including fines for those companies who fail to take measures to reduce the gender pay gap in their organisation.
Sinn Fein's manifesto contains vast proposals with regard to overhauling industrial relations legislation. For example:
creating a legal requirement on employers to recognise trade unions, for the purposes of collective bargaining and individual representation
reform of strike laws to reduce legal interference in the rights of workers taking collective action
enabling workers to take action promptly where a unionised colleague is 'sacked'
No such extensive reform of industrial relations law features in Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael's manifestos. Fine Gael does state it would like to see improvement in the pay and terms and conditions in sectors formally covered by Employment Regulation Orders. They would use the Labour Employer Economic forum to consult with unions and employers on how Joint Labour Committees (JLCs) might be made operable again by the end of 2020.
The categorisation of staff as either employees or independent contractors (self-employed) has been a hot topic for some time (see our recent alert). There can be significant employment law and tax consequences if staff are incorrectly classified as self-employed.
Sinn Féin states as a priority the ending of the 'bogus self-employment' abuse of employment law. It states it will "ensure employers can no longer avoid an employer-employee relationship by drafting contracts, explicitly or implicitly, that do not accord with the reality of the employment relationship."
Fine Gael committed in its manifesto to introducing new laws to further strengthen the existing law (including putting the Code of Practice for Determining Employment Status on a statutory basis) and measures to stop victimisation of workers who seek a determination of their status.
Fianna Fáil's manifesto contains a simple commitment to "clamp down on exploitative bogus self-employment contracts."
While these may be no more than political aspirations to attract voters, it is the basis upon which the parties were elected. Whatever the outcome of the talks to form a workable government (or lack thereof), certain common themes are clear in the parties' priorities for the future development of employment law. Given the differences in approach to many issues in the employment sphere, it will potentially make for an interesting programme for government.