Serious questions are raised by the minimal and unhelpful answer given by Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to a question about the failure of Ebsco to abide by the Labour Court recommendation in favour of the ex-H.W. Wilson workers made redundant by Ebsco.
Replying to a parliamentary question from his Fine Gael colleague South Kerry TD Brendan Griffin, Minister Bruton confined himself to reminding the questioner of the voluntary nature of Labour Court recommendations. The minister explained, not for the first time, that neither he nor the Labour Court could compel companies to abide by the court’s recommendations.
This is a curious answer, since the minister must think that Deputy Griffin, if he assumes that such compulsion is possible, knows very little about the Labour Court. As Minister Bruton undoubtedly knows very well, though, neither Deputy Griffin nor the ex-Wilson workers are unaware of the voluntary character of Labour Court recommendations.
The obvious follow-up question, to which the minister offered no hint of an answer, is, now that we know what you can’t do to help us, what can you do? If the answer is nothing, then are there questions to be asked about allowing vital labour arbitration mechanisms to remain voluntary?
Perhaps the minister’s position is that it would be inappropriate for him to get involved in a labour dispute. This claim would conflate two very different things, though: While it would obviously be inappropriate for the minister to comment on a Labour Court case before it is decided, this surely does not mean that legislators must remain neutral on the question of whether or not a Labour Court recommendation, once issued, should be respected. Minister Bruton’s “answer” to Deputy Griffin seems to remain neutral between those who are refusing to abide by a Labour Court recommendation, on the one hand, and those who are seeking to have it upheld, on the other. Is the minister saying that disrespecting the Labour Court is just as valid as abiding by its recommendations? This is what he seems to imply when he says that the responsibility for settling a dispute rests with the parties involved, even when the Labour Court has already issued its recommendation in relation to that dispute. The implication is that the party defying the recommendation is no more in the wrong than the party seeking to have the recommendation upheld.
At the very least, we’d like to know what the minister’s government colleagues in the Labour Party have to say about this!