High Court strikes down minimum pay law for electricians

The High Court enacted law that provides certain minimum wages and entitlements for electricians.

In the past year, smaller electrical installers questioned the government’s issuing of a sectoral labor ordinance (SEO), which set out wage rates, pension and sickness benefits in the electrical industry.

The contractors, members of the National Electrical Contractors of Ireland (NECI), alleged the SEO had violated their rights and was unconstitutional.

Their arguments included that search engine optimization made it a criminal offense for them to employ workers on less favorable terms than others and was a significant encroachment on employers’ freedom of contract.

The case was brought against the Labor Court, the Minister for Economy, Enterprise and Innovation and the Attorney General. The claims were denied.

On Tuesday, Justice Garrett Simons found that the minister had acted outside of her powers to conduct the SEO.

It was a prerequisite for the minister’s jurisdiction to conduct search engine optimization to ensure that the labor court met the requirements of Chapter 3 of the Labor Relations Act (Amendment) 2015, he said.

The minister erred in law by concluding, on the basis of a report submitted to her and a recommendation, that the labor court had complied with these provisions, he said.

The report accompanied a recommendation by the Labor Court to the Minister in April 2019 to publish the SEO.

The judge said the report was the cornerstone of the minister’s later assessment of whether the labor court had complied with the provisions of the 2015 Act (Chapter 3).

The report was flawed because it “did not record the conclusions of the Labor Court on key issues itself, and even less does the report contain the reasons for these conclusions”.

The report also failed to provide a fair and accurate summary of the posts submitted by interested parties who opposed creating a Search Engine Optimization and did not address the issues raised in those posts, he said.

The report and recommendation also did not adequately address the definition of the “economic sector” concerned and did not specify the class, type or group of workers to whom the recommendation would apply, he said.

Given that search engine optimization did not fall under the minister’s jurisdiction, the judge said there was, strictly speaking, no need to examine the challenge to the constitutional validity of parenting legislation (2015 Law) with reference to constitutional rights.

However, on this issue too, the judge ruled that the overarching legislation did not contain enough principles and guidelines to determine the very broad discretion given to the Minister and indirectly to the Labor Court.

The decision to establish binding minimum employment conditions for the entire economic sector requires difficult political decisions and has far-reaching consequences for employers, employees and consumers.

The overriding legislation did not allow the Minister / Labor Court to make these important policy decisions, which meant that the potential impact on the competitiveness of the sector had to be taken into account, but “broadly the choice was which objective should prevail”, he said.

The concept of “fair and sustainable” compensation was “hopelessly vague and too subjective,” he said.

The delegation of this role to the minister included “an unstandardized delegation of non-standard legislation to the minister” that would be unlikely to be questioned in a judicial review, he said.

Therefore, the overriding legislation with reference to Article 15.2.1 of the Constitution (power of Oireachtas to legislate) is invalid, he said.

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