10th October 2022 – ISME has today expressed the grave concern of its membership at the questionable proposals produced by the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) “High Level Working Group” on 5th October 2022, regarding collective bargaining.
LEEF is an entity from which ISME, a representative body of a significant number of Irish Small and Medium Enterprises, and other small business representatives, have been deliberately excluded. As such, a representative body, ISME has been requesting admission to LEEF from as far back as December 2018.
“ISME takes no issue with LEEF other than with the fact that it is unrepresentative of small enterprise. The employer’s side is composed exclusively of the representatives of large enterprises, despite the reality that they make up only 0.2% of active enterprises in the State,” said Neil McDonnell, Chief Executive, ISME. “LEEF businesses are mostly comprised of multinational employers or the public service and semi-states.”
“Excluded from the State-sponsored process are small and medium enterprises that make up 99.8% of active enterprises in Ireland and employ 66% of workers in the productive economy. Micro enterprises (those with less than ten persons engaged) account for 92% of enterprises in the economy and 26% of persons engaged,” he said. “It is absurd and contradictory to suggest that those businesses would be required to enter into collective bargaining with trade unions when they are deprived of recognition by the State body on which the unions themselves sit.”
SME employers have shown willingness to engage in the collective bargaining process in the past. Very recently an ISME affiliated Federation had to fight tooth and nail for a seat on a newly established JLC despite being told they could not do so as they were “not a member of LEEF.” This Federation represented approximately 80% of the employers in that effected sector.
The LEEF report suggests that the threshold for collective bargaining should be ten per cent of the workforce with no minimum limit as to the number of employees. Given that 92% of businesses employ less than ten people, this clearly shows this is an absurdly low threshold, and means collective bargaining could be imposed on a business where one employee wanted it and nine did not. The legislation upon which this proposal is grounded sets a minimum number of employees and concerns employee consultation only, not collective bargaining.
The LEEF Report does not suggest any methodology by which collective bargaining would be conducted with small businesses. Small businesses do not have a professional HR function, and the owner is regularly a part of the workforce themselves. They would not be in a position to sit down with a trade union, let alone release a section of their workforce for union meetings. As the trade union movement is seeking to engage with the SME sector, it is incumbent upon them to explain how such engagement would occur in the SME sector.
Successive attempts by Big Unions and Big Employers to collude in the imposition of conditions upon employers whom they exclude from the negotiation process have consistently failed in the Irish courts. We believe that this most recent LEEF report is doomed to failure unless there is a meaningful engagement with the 99% of employers whose voices remain unheard.
As we see it the main beneficiaries of such a proposal will be the organisations represented by the members of the working group who produced these proposals, as small business will feel forced to seek professional representation when dealing with and within small businesses there will arise demarcation between employees who wish to deal with their employer directly and a very insignificant minority of employees.
It is not trade unions that lack representation and bargaining power in Ireland. It is small businesses. There can be no progress on collective bargaining rights for workers in the SME sector without recognition for their employers, and a credible plan for how collective bargaining will take place without damaging the Irish economy.