Bruton defends controversial report

ENTERPRISE Minister Richard Bruton has justified scrapping Sunday and overtime pay for low paid workers by saying businesses have suffered a carnage of job losses.

The Fine Gael minister shrugged off criticisms from his coalition partners but also denied that there was a rift with Labour over his moves to cut anti-social hour working rates.

A new report on Joint Labour Committees (JLCs) and wage setting mechanisms for workers in specific sectors said the system needed to be overhauled.

But the report also said that special hourly rates should remain and that reducing rates to the minimum wage was “unlikely to have a substantial effect on employment”.

Pay rates decided by JLCs are normally above the minimum wage and apply to Sunday, weekend and overtime work, particularly in the retail, catering, hotel and service sectors, covering more than 200,000 workers.

Speaking in Dublin, Mr Bruton said: “My concern is to protect employment and these sectors are sectors that have suffered a carnage in employment terms: 25% of jobs and more have gone in some sectors. The challenge is to protect people’s jobs and give an opportunity to create jobs for the future.”

Despite claims by the Mandate trade union that the minister was going beyond the report’s recommendations, Mr Bruton said his plans were based on its findings.

He claimed that changing JLC terms and special wage rates would actually create jobs, but he did not reveal how many.

Mr Bruton wants to drop legally-binding employment regulation orders for Sunday pay and instead put agreements with workers under existing laws.

These could allow employers to cut premium Sunday pay and instead offer workers time off in lieu, a reasonable allowance or an overall pay increase for the day worked.

“The proposals that I am setting out are essentially saying that the law that applies for every other worker and to every other employer would apply in these sectors as well,” Mr Bruton said.

Changes to premium hourly rates and JLC terms were flagged in the Programme for Government as well as the EU/IMF bailout deal.

Mr Bruton has allowed the next fortnight for discussions with employers, unions and the EU/IMF troika.

He intends to bring proposals for an action plan to Cabinet around June 21.

Fianna Fáil said the proposed changes “will have a very serious detrimental effect on employees’ rights” and questioned whether Fine Gael’s junior coalition partners had been consulted.

Labour party members, senior and junior, yesterday indicated their opposition to the planned cuts.

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