“The UK’s choice is between a hard Brexit and no Brexit and it is only a no Brexit that can give us the border we have now.”
Phil Hogan EU Agricultural Commissioner
These comments from the commissioner to Irish TD’s and senators may state the obvious but they also give us an insight into the hardening attitudes in Brussels – there can be no half way house, the UK is either in or out!
In contrast the statements from the UK side reflect the wish to avoid a ‘hard border’ – the UK and Irish Governments will come to an arrangement, but the negotiations will be with the EU not the Irish.
In August the 1st Minister (Arlene Foster) and Deputy 1st Minister (Martin Mc Guinness) for NI wrote to the British PM highlighting five issues:
* The physical border
* Trading costs
* Energy market
* EU funding – particularly for agriculture
* Agri-food sector
The Prime Minister replied that she wants to retain the Common Travel Area – Irish and UK citizens can move freely between the two jurisdictions without passport controls.
But it is the mobility of labour that is the critical issue – thousands of people commute daily across the border to work and they are not only Irish and UK citizens, many are EU nationals. Employers must retain access to unskilled as well as skilled workers for both the private sector and public sector.
If I am an Irish citizen living in Monaghan will I need a work permit to work in Armagh?
The UK Prime Minister (Teresa May) has a very difficult task to reconcile the demands for immigration control, access to the single market and the hard line position reflected in the statements from Brussels.
The meetings in London last week – four months after the vote – suggest that the UK government are starting a consultation process with Wales, Scotland and NI. Scotland’s position has been well documented over the past four months but it was a surprise that Wales is also demanding access to the single market.
The irony of the vote is that the UK has reached full employment. If the economy is to continue to grow it needs migrant workers to take up jobs in agriculture, retail, hotels and the NHS.
We can only speculate that the UK will seek to control immigration through:
* Work permit schemes
* Sectoral employment schemes
* Points system for skilled worker
How will immigration be policed at the border?
Agri – food sector
It is not a surprise that the Agri-food sector is singled out for special mention by the NI Ministers, the UK accounts for over 50% of all Irish food exports and for many SME’s it is the only export market.
The Mushroom Industry is the most exposed sector – 90% of production is exported to the UK, which is the only realistic market for short shelf life product.
Exports to UK 90%
Value of exports €130 M
Jobs 3500 in the rural economy
Many of the deals were struck with UK retailers were when sterling was at 70p : €1 but has now dropped to 90p : €1 a loss in value of 20%. The Mushroom Industry faces a very uncertain future.
Monitoring employees at work
The Data Protection Acts 1988 – 2003 applies to all information that employers collect about their workers – personal information, medical history, CCTV images.
The Act does not prevent an employer for collecting and using such information, however, it does try to strike a balance between the employers need to maintain employment records and the individual’s right to privacy.
Taking effective disciplinary action
The Unfair Dismissal Act 1977 -2001 has had a massive impact on the protection of employees by clearly defining ‘unfair dismissal’ and providing ready access to Employment Tribunal to have a claim heard.
The Act requires that the employer must give a written procedure to be applied to a dismissal to the employee within 28 days of the date of hire. The Act reversed the normal burden of proof in legal cases by putting the onus on the employer to show that there were ‘substantial grounds’ for the action and that ‘fair procedure’ was applied in the case.
Fair Procedure and natural justice
Employers are generally required to treat employees with consideration and respect in disciplinary situations. The disciplinary procedure should be considered as a tool to improve performance rather than as a means of inflicting punishment.
When drawing up and applying a disciplinary policy keep the principles of fairness in mind:
- Investigate the situation and acquire the facts
- the employee must be presented with the evidence and allowed an opportunity to answer the charge
- the employer must hear the case and form a judgement after having considered all the evidence
- the employee must be provided with the opportunity for representation in any meeting with management
- At any stage employees involved in the disciplinary procedure have the right to appeal a decision
Keep written records
The burden of proof on the employer is very onerous, so it is extremely important to keep accurate written records:
- Notes from all formal meetings
- Written communications between, employee, employer and relevant third parties
- Evidence relied on in the case, investigation report, documents and statements etc
- Record of the appeal (if appropriate)
- Records grievances raised during the disciplinary proceedings
The records should be treated as confidential and held in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2003. The Act gives the employee the right to access all the data held by the employer.
Investigating the case
In serious cases, such as, theft or bullying or abusive behaviour, it may be necessary to carry out an investigation into the circumstances before proceeding to the disciplinary stage. It is important to separate the investigation from the decision to take disciplinary action.
The purpose of the investigation is to establish the facts and it is important to deal with the employee in a fair and open minded way. Although there is no statutory right to be represented it is advisable to allow the employee to be supported by a fellow employee.
Informing the employee
If it is decided that there is a case to answer, the employee should be notified in writing. The notification should contain sufficient information about the allegation to enable the employee to prepare a response to the charge. This should include copies of all written evidence; investigation report, records, statements etc.
The notification should include a reminder of the employee’s right to be represented at the meeting.
Conducting the disciplinary meeting
The employee should receive sufficient notice of the meeting to enable the preparation of the defence. At the meeting the employer should outline the complaint and go through the evidence to support the case.
The employee should be given time to respond and address the allegations that have been made; to ask questions; present alternative evidence; and call witnesses.
If new facts emerge it may be necessary to adjourn the meeting to carry out further investigations.
After the meeting consider whether or not disciplinary action is appropriate and inform the employee in writing.
“Perhaps it is because we have gone through seven years of economic hell, that we have forgotten that wage increases are part of a normally functioning economy.
What we must not forget, however, is that sustainable pay improvements, in both public and private sectors relate to productivity and our capacity to pay for them. We cannot return to the mistakes of the past.”
Brendan Howlin Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform
There are clear signs of economic recovery which is creating an expectation that people will see an improvement in take home pay. In the private sector, local bargaining has established a benchmark of 2% in 2014 and managing pay expectations will be a key issue which will gain momentum in 2015.
The Haddington Road Agreement does not expire to the middle of 2016 but the minister has indicated that discussions with public sector unions will commence in the summer. The minister has acknowledged that it is a legitimate expectation for the public sector trade unions to expect a return to normal industrial relations. The unions have already signalled that talks will focus on pay restoration and a claw back of the 7.0% pension reduction imposed on public sector workers in 2009.
In the private sector, local bargaining has established 2.0% benchmark in the multinational sector. While most deals were on basic pay terms there is growing evidence of the inclusion of bonuses, sick pay, annual leave and service awards. In the multinational industries deals tend to be for longer periods – 2 to 5 years – reflecting the preference for longer term planning horizons.
There is no inflation in the economy and therefore no argument for ‘cost of living’ based increases.
Negotiators should heed the ministers warning “not to make the mistakes of the past”, as too much hard work and pain has gone into achieving productivity gains and restoring stability in public finances.
29 January 2015