Cabinet clash expected over premium pay overhaul

A PROPOSED overhaul of premium pay for weekend and overtime workers in the catering and retail sectors is set to lead to clashes among the Coalition partners.

The Cabinet will today discuss a review of the Joint Labour Committee (JLC) system, which decides hourly pay rates for more than 200,000 workers.

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton will outline options from the report, which is expected to recommend that the JLC system be radically changed in light of evolving labour market conditions.

Pay rates decided by JLCs are normally above the minimum wage and apply to Sunday, weekend and overtime work, particularly in the retail and catering sectors.

Any move to lower rates for already low-paid workers is expected to be met by opposition from Labour ministers at the Cabinet table as well as from party backbenchers.

One Fine Gael government source yesterday said: “This will probably be the first real thing where there will be resistance from our partners. There’s going to be a lot of debate around this. It’s going to take more than half an hour. We know it’s very close to their [Labour’s] hearts and the [trade] unions’.”

Mr Bruton has maintained areas like retail, hotel and catering have been amongst those hardest hit, with 20% of jobs lost in these sectors in the last three years.

There are wage disparities of between 25% and 30% in some sectors compared to Britain, Mr Bruton has said.

Rates of pay in some sectors covered by JLCs have risen much higher than increases in the minimum wage, by an average 20% in some areas.

Ministers last week initially discussed the independent review, which was head by Labour Court chairman Kevin Duffy.

The report will be presented in full today.

Changes to overtime and Sunday pay rate regimes are expected to be among measures discussed by ministers as well as reducing the number of JLCs in general.

Mr Bruton has already said that he plans to make far-reaching reforms of the current JLC system, in line with commitments to the EU/IMF bailout programme.

Trade unions have vowed to oppose any dilution of anti-social working hour rates, with SIPTU’s Jack O’Connor declaring such a move would be a “scandalous betrayal” of low-paid workers.

Employer group IBEC has pointed out that basic rates for retail staff will be 26% higher next month than the current minimum wage.

Mr Bruton’s department yesterday said: “The minister will shortly publish the report and a realistic time-bound action plan for radical reform in the area.”


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